Barely five months after a sex-selective abortion racket was unearthed at Mhaisal in Sangli district of Maharashtra, district authorities of Solapur have lodged two separate cases against four doctors conducting abortions at unauthorised centres. The authorities have filed cases against these doctors for violating provisions of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act. Two of the doctors were arrested while the other two have been on the run.
These cases have prompted the Solapur district authorities to undertake a fresh fortnight-long survey of nursing homes. Some time ago, the health department of Maharashtra government had carried out a similar state-wide survey of medical establishments and it had identified 95 nursing homes in Solapur that were registered to carry out MTPs.
Rajendra Bhosale, Solapur district collector, told The Indian Express that the fresh survey would help in stepping up vigilance and cracking down on those involved in illegal abortions. Two doctors, Dr Tejas Gandhi and Dr Priya Gandhi, who run the Siya Maternity and Nursing Home in Solapur, were arrested on August 25 following a sting operation by a team of Lek Ladki Abhiyaan, an NGO run by Satara-based advocate Varsha Deshpande. The NGO has carried out 35-40 similar sting operations in the past and sent decoy patients to identify unscrupulous doctors involved in sex-selective abortions.
In this case, Deshpande’s team conducted the sting operation following an anonymous call in the middle of August about the maternity home, located at Akluj in Solapur. “We found that Dr Tejas Gandhi, who had a case filed against him in 2007 under the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act, was involved in illegal abortions. He had been acquitted by the sessions court in the earlier case and his sonography machine had been released. Along with Dr Priya Gandhi, he had been running the Siya Maternity Nursing Home, which is not registered as a medical termination of pregnancy centre,” claimed Deshpande.
She said while the government had taken a useful step by sending warning notices to all establishments, lack of follow-up action had meant that doctors continued to flout the law.
Dr M Patanshetti, district civil surgeon in Solapur, told The Indian Express that investigations had shown that between May 2016 and July 2017, at least 36 women had terminated their pregnancies at the Siya Maternity Home.
“These abortions were illegal as the centre had not been registered under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act. They have also flouted provisions of the PC-PNDT Act. We examined the records on August 24 and seized the ultrasound machines and other documents. A case has been filed at the JMFC court at Malshiras in Solapur. The doctors were arrested on August 25 and remanded to police custody till August 28,” he said.
Arun Sawant, the police officer investigating the case, told The Indian Express that the two doctors had been put under judicial custody.
Another case has been registered against Dr Vijaysinh Bhagat and Dr Sukhdev Kadam, under Section 5 of the MTP Act, for conducting nine illegal abortions at their unregistered centre. Dr Pattanshetti said the two doctors have been absconding since the case was filed against them.
Recently, the state health department had carried out a survey of more than 37,000 hospitals and clinics across Maharashtra, and had found 6,742 of them in violation of various laws. As many as 1,329 of them had flouted provisions of the Bombay Nursing Home Registration Act, while 2,084 were found to be not adhering to the guidelines and rules laid down by the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board.
Another 536 had incomplete records, 410 centres had their doctors involved in cross pathy, while 701 did not have the necessary equipment as per fire safety rules. As many as 98 medical establishments were found to have unqualified staff, and 43 centres had violated the MTP Act.
Doctors in the dock
– Across Pune, Satara and Solapur, a total of 124 cases have been filed against doctors for flouting the Pre Conception and Pre Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act.
– In PMC areas, 63 cases were filed, while 14 were filed in Pune district and 9 in Pimpri Chinchwad Municipal Corporation area. Of these, 20 doctors were convicted.
– At Solapur district, 15 cases were filed under the PC-PNDT Act, while cases were filed against seven doctors in Solapur city. Eight doctors were convicted at Solapur.
– At Satara, cases have been filed against 16 doctors, and there have been four convictions.
– From 2002 till date, a total of 579 cases have been filed against doctors for flouting various provisions of the PC-PNDT Act.
– There have been a total of 31 convictions, and 209 cases have ended in acquittals and dismissals. As many as 279 cases are still pending.
– However, state health officials said that they continue to receive complaints against errant doctors on the government’s website and helpline number.