THE NUMBER of children born in the last five years in Maharashtra has recorded a drop by 11 points, according to the fifth round of National Family Health Survey (NFHS-5). The sex ratio at birth (SRB) stands at 913 girls/1,000 boys as against 924 girls/1,000 boys as per NFHS-4.
An analysis of district-wise estimates shows reduced ratios in Beed (1,046 in 2015-16 to 843 in 2019-20), Jalgaon (922 to 857), Akola (934 to 896), Hingoli (992 to 838), Aurangabad (1,130 to 875), Jalna (880 to 867), Nanded (961 to 888), Nashik (867 to 816), Nandurbar (1,023 to 885) and Pune (927 to 873).
There are some districts that have shown a rise in sex ratio at birth. For instance, Dhule reported ratios increasing from 853 to 919: Kolhapur (651 to 937), Latur (920 to 1,265), Raigad (793 to 871), Sindhudurg (824 to 874) Osmanabad (821 to 1,050), Sangli (913 to 1,012) and Solapur (815 to 960).
According to the state health department’s latest provisional data based on civil registration system (CRS), which tracks births and deaths, for 2018 shows that there are 60 blocks in 11 districts in Maharashtra where sex ratio at birth has declined to less than 900 girls/1,000 boys. These include Dhule (893 girls/1,000 boys), Solapur (895), Aurangabad (896), Jalgaon (889), Kolhapur (870), Jalna (879), Gondia (897), Hingoli (891) and Buldhana (857). Overall, sex ratio at birth as per CRS in the state in 2018 was at 916 girls/1,000 boys. In 2016, it was 904 girls/1,000 boys.
Prof Usha Ram at the department of public health and mortality studies, International Institute of Population Sciences, told The Indian Express that comparison of sex ratio at birth from CRS and NFHS would be incorrect as both have their own limitations. “The completeness of birth registration in the CRS has always been a matter of concern in India, nationally as well as sub-nationally, specifically for female births. Thus, one has to be careful when using CRS data at the district level. The NFHS, on the other hand, sample size is a big concern and, hence, estimated SRB at the district level may not be reliable. Nonetheless, you can compare the SRB from two rounds of NFHS over time with a caution for sample size constraint,” Prof Ram said.
Dr Archana Patil, state director of health, said CRS figures were usually considered for sex ratio at birth. “However, there is need to improve the sex ratio at birth and several actions have to be taken,” Dr Patil said.
Dr Digambar Kangule, state nodal officer to implement the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PC-PNDT) Act, 1994, also pointed out that Maharashtra was the only state where the conviction rate against offenders under the Act was 18 per cent.
Only 604 cases registered under PC-PNDT Act in last 19 years
As many as 604 cases were registered under the PC-PNDT Act in the last 19 years. A majority of cases were filed between 2011 and 2015 after the 2011 Census showed a skewed sex ratio. Maharashtra took the lead in strictly implementing the Act. In the last few years, however, the number of cases registered went down. This year, two cases were filed, while in 2019, seven were filed and nine in 2018. A total of 109 people have been convicted and, according to state health authorities, there are 313 acquittals.
“In some cases, we have appealed to the higher courts against the acquittal,” Dr Kangule said. The tenure of the state supervisory board set up under the PC-PNDT Act ended on March 31, 2018. The aim of the board, headed by the state health minister, is to carry out a district-wise review of the implementation of the Act and prevent sex determination tests. The board, whose tenure is three years, includes close to 30 members comprising top government officials and doctors from different associations among others. Varsha Deshpande, founder of Lek Laadki Abhiyaan and who has been at the forefront of a campaign to prevent sex determination tests, said strictly implementing the Act was no longer a priority and, hence, there has been a decline in sex ratio at birth. She said there was a deep-rooted preference for the make child and, while social behaviours have to change, there was a need to strictly implement the Act.
Dr Kangule said they had sent a proposal to the government for reconstituting the board and were awaiting a response.