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Stop harassment of Sonologists/gynecs on basis of anonymous complaints by PCPNDT officials

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Dear Sir,

I, along with my fellow countrymen and women am equally concerned about female foeticide and distorted male: female sex ratio in India. To improve this situation, the government has taken many measures, one of them being the PC&PNDT act. The officials who work in this department are given broad powers to implement this act in letter and spirit. 

But just as all things which have their uses, may also be abused, the broad powers given to the department have now become an easy tool in hands of vindictive people to abuse the law to harass sonologists/gynecologists.

The PC&PNDT department has mandate to investigate complaints of breach of the provisions of this Act or the rules made there under and take immediate action.

Using this clause of the law, many people, to settle their personal vendetta against a sonologist/gynecologist, send anonymous complaint letters of malpractice related to sex determination of foetus by the sonologist/gynecologist to the department, following which a team of officials from the PC&PNDT department visits the centre for inspection and conducts what is nothing short of raid on the centre. In such a scenario, the concerned doctor is treated like a criminal. Even if at the end of inspection, nothing incriminating is found, the doctor forever loses the respect and dignity in front of the patients who are present at the centre at that time. Not only that, when the news of such "inspection” get out, the reputation of the doctor is forever tarnished, for no fault of his/her. After facing such indignity in his/her own centre, in presence of staff and patients, it is hardly surprising if the doctor seriously considers to stop performing Pelvic ultrasound ever in the future. It is highly unfortunate that Many of the brilliant doctors are considering to settle down to another country where they can get Better working atmosphere in addition to huge pay scale.

Already, the sonologists/gynecologists have to spare lot of time and resources in maintaining various data, registers, etc, when the conduct pelvic sonography.  If such harassment persists, the day may come when the sonologists would refuse to perform pelvic ultrasound at all, which in the current age and times, would pose a very big problem especially for the pregnant ladies. It may be recalled that on 1st September 2016, the Radiologists across the country had gone on strike and refused to perform pelvic ultrasounds. Also it had been decided to extend the strike for indefinite interval, but following reassurances provided by the government that necessary action to reduce the burden and harassment of sonologists shall be taken, the strike had been withdrawn. However, no action on part of government is forthcoming. Hence, the fear of losing the ultrasound services of the sonologists is very real.

While it is necessary that a mechanism exists wherein such errant sonologists/gynecologists who perform sex determination are reported, however it is also necessary to have checks and balances so that this mechanism is not abused. It would be pertinent to note that the act would prove to be much more effective and deterrent if the patient's family, who asks for the sex determination is brought into the ambit of the act.

Towards this end, it should be made mandatory for the whistle blower to provide verifiable contact details and to provide specific information. A mechanism should also exist where the whistle blower is protected. But if it is found that the complaint was false or made with malicious intent, a mechanism should also exist to give exemplary punishment to such individuals and just as it is criminal offence to perform sex determination, false complaint with malicious intent should also be considered as criminal offence and dealt accordingly with exemplary quantum of punishment as per CVC guidelines. Unless the whistle blower gives verifiable contact details, his/her complaint should be ignored, as per CVC guidelines.

The Central Vigilance Commission vide its circular, serial number 98/DSP/9(Part 2), dated 07th March, 2016, has already issued instructions, based on the observations of CAT and High Court of Madras and after taking opinion of Ld. Attorney General for India, that "No action should be taken on anonymous/pseudonymous complaints in line with Commission's present instructions dated 25th November, 2014 and such complaints should be filed."

I, thus, petition the honourable Union Minister of Health and Family Welfare to bring into place such a mechanism, and add the  relevant clauses into the PC&PNDT Act, as per CVC guidelines, that only such complaints wherein verifiable contact details of complainant along with specific information of malpractice related to sex determination is provided will be pursued and that anonymous/pseudonymous complaints against sonologists/gynecologists would not be pursued and that such anonymous/pseudonymous complaints would be filed. Also, as per CVC guidelines, if such complaint is found to be false and malicious, the matter shall be considered as criminal offence and shall be dealt with accordingly.

Sir, failing to have such checks and balances may bring a situation in the not too distant future wherein out of fear of vendetta and malice, the sonologists/gynecologists may refuse to perform pelvic ultrasound at all. It would be a very sorry day for healthcare in our country, especially for the pregnant ladies.

With warm regards,

Preeyank Vora

An important point which has come up consequent to publishing of the petition is that in many centres, the powers conferred by PC&PNDT Act that empower the PNDT officials to enter, search and seal USG machines without giving any reasons are being misused by the PNDT officials to extort bribes from the doctors. Keeping this in mind, it becomes more important that the element of accountability on part of PNDT officials, which is missing in the act, be introduced. Towards this end too, it becomes important that only genuine specific complaints from complainants who give verifiable contact details and data are entertained and also if such complaints are found false then immediate action by considering such complaints as criminal offence be initiated. Else, PNDT officials making such searches under garb of anonymous complaints shall continue doing so with impunity and without fear, and shall continue to make use of this loophole of the Act to extort bribes from sonologists/gynecs and continue harassing them.

Regards,

Preeyank.



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