A couple who ran a sex-determination ‘clinic’ in Punjab thought they were about to seal a good deal, until they realised they have walked into a trap. A team of Rajasthan anti-sex determination officials caught the couple while they were taking money from a ‘customer’, who the sleuths had sent as a decoy seeking to know the gender of her unborn child.
The Rajasthan government is hoping to improve child sex ratio by effectively enforcing an anti-sex determination law, also known as the PCPNDT Act, 1994, and is the only state in the country that has a separate bureau to catch criminals who break this law.
The PCPNDT bureau, as the law enforcement team is known in Rajasthan, in its latest operation sent a pregnant woman from the state’s Hanumangarh district to the accused couple’s clinic in Punjab’s Muktsar district.
A tout took the pregnant woman to the clinic for the sex-determination text, which cost between Rs 30,000 and Rs 50,000. When the woman was paying the couple at their clinic, officers of the PCPNDT bureau raided the place and arrested the couple along with a doctor and a technician.
Since it was set up in 2012, the PCPNDT bureau has conducted 83 decoy operations – 20 of them outside Rajasthan’s borders – catching doctors who had been carrying out sex-determination tests even in neighbouring states like Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh and Punjab.
One of the reasons why the bureau has been successful in enforcing the anti-sex determination law is because it has its own police station right inside the health department, along with its own lock-up cells.
The PCPNDT bureau comprises police personnel led by a Deputy Superintendent of Police-rank officer, who reports directly to an Indian Administrative Service officer. Support teams include nodal officers, district health officers and legal officers who ensure the case goes through in court.
“The PCPNDT bureau has been empowered with using sections of the criminal code [Code of Criminal Procedure] and the Indian Penal Code for sex-determination crimes, and we have a proper police station inside the health department which has a jurisdiction over the entire state of Rajasthan,” said Naveen Jain, Secretary, National Health Mission, who is heading the PCPNDT bureau.
“Also after we make an arrest our legal officers see the case through court; they track witnesses and make sure they come for depositions, and follow the case till conviction is made,” Mr Jain said.
The bureau has ensured conviction in 202 out of 652 sex-determination cases since 2009. This year the bureau conducted 29 decoy operations and arrested 83 people, including 15 senior doctors.
In the last two years, eight doctors running sex-determination clinics have been convicted with sentences ranging from six months to three years by sessions courts in Rajasthan.
While the crackdown is working, the real challenge is in changing the mindset of people. “The mindset has not really changed, but change has come due to effective implementation of the Act. An estimated 6,000 people were involved in this racket; now that number has fallen to 1,000,” said Rajan Chaudhary, an activist working for over 20 years to prevent female foeticide.
Doctors involved with the PCPNDT bureau track sonography machines in Rajasthan. All the machines in the state are fitted with Global Positioning System or GPS device and other sensors that record the number of sonographies done, which makes it difficult for people to fudge records.
Rajasthan is seeing the results of its effort to end female foeticide. In 2011, the desert state stood among states with the worst sex ratios – 888 girls were born as against 1,000 boys. Hospital records now show that the ratio has improved in the past three years. In 2014-2015, the ratio of girls born was 929 girls to 1,000 boys, while in 2016 it was 938 girls to 1,000 boys.
Officials say they hope the trend continues till the 2021 census, when a formal count of Rajasthan’s child sex ratio will be done.