In the wake of COVID-19 outbreak, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has suspended certain rules that were made under Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act, 1994. The suspension was on account of the difficulty in compliance due to the lockdown. Health Ministry issued a notification on April 4. It read as “ the unprecedented scenario due to COVID-19 pandemic has made compliance of Rule 8, Rule 9(8) and Rule 18A(6) of the Preconception and Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Rules,1996 difficult leading to the necessity of issuing this notification, which will have retrospective effect, i.e. from the date of lockdown till June 30, 2020.”
The Act aims to deal with the social evil of female foeticide. It placed an absolute prohibition on sex determination tests. This is mainly due to the preference given to a male child in various sections of society. It also provided that prenatal testing techniques could only be used for specific purposes like identifying genetic abnormalities. The act makes the registration of diagnostic laboratories, all genetic counselling centres, genetic laboratories, genetic clinics and ultrasound clinics mandatory. The suspended rules dealt with re-registration and reports of ultrasound and genetic labs, and clinics at the appropriate authorities.
The notification has raised concerns over the suspension of these rules. They fear that suspension might lead to illegal sex determination. All India Democratic Women’s Association claimed that the suspension goes against the purpose of the PC-PNDT Act. CPI(M) Politburo member Brinda Karat also asserted that suspension of the rules would lead to rampant misuses by ultrasound clinics, imaging centres and genetic counselling centres, laboratories and clinics which are covered under essential services and will be operational during the lockdown. Karat has issued a letter to the Union Health Ministry in this regard.