The Supreme Court on Monday issued notice on a petition challenging the April 4 notification of the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare suspending certain rules made under the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act 1994, citing difficulty in compliance due to the locdown announced in the wake of COVID-19 pandemic.
A bench comprising Justices U U Lalit, Mohan M Shantanagoudar and Vineet Saran issued notice on a petition filed by one Sabu Mathew George, who contended that the very objective of the Act was getting defeated by the suspension of the rules.
The Court has asked the Centre to file its reply within the first week of July, and has said that the matter will be disposed of in the next posting date, which will be in the third week of July.
In a notification issued on April 4, the Ministry suspended the implementation of Rule 8, Rule 9(8) and Rule 18A(6) of the Preconception and Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Rules,1996 until June 30, 2020.
"The unprecedented scenario due to COVID-19 pandemic outbreak has made compliance of Rule 8, Rule 9(8) and Rule 18A (6) of the Pre-Conception & 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 the lockdown, till June 30, 2020", said the notification.
The Act was made to address the problem of female foeticide in the country due to the preference for male child in some sections of the society. The Act therefore imposed an absolute prohibition on sex determination tests and mandated that pre-natal testing techniques could be used only for specific purposes such as determination of genetic abnormalities. The Act mandates compulsory registration of all diagnostic laboratories, all genetic counselling centres, genetic laboratories, genetic clinics and ultrasound clinics.
Rule 8 deals with the application for re-registration of a genetic lab and clinic including an ultrasound lab by the AA (Appropriate Authority).The AA after enquiry and examining whether the clinic etc has been complying with the P-C & PNDT Act and rules,can renew the registration for 5 years.
Rule 9(8) states that each genetic or ultra sound clinic or imaging centre etc shall send a complete report of all pre-conception and pregnancy-related procedures conducted by them to the AA every month.
Rule 18A requires the AA to send quarterly reports to the Government and to maintain full information of all the registrations in the specified Form H.
The petitioner, represented by Senior Advocate Sanjay Parikh, contended that the suspension of the provisions diluted the provisions of the PC-PNDT Act, which was enacted to remedy the social evil of female foeticide.
"This illegal suspension of Rules, while medical establishments continue to function, will provide avenues for misuse of technology for purposes of sex-selection and sex-determination, and will result in a loss of the gains made in the strict implementation of the Act", the petition stated.