Four doctors in Sangli are being investigated for possibly performing illegal sex-determination tests. A seven-member committee investigating an illegal abortion racket, which was unearthed in Sangli earlier this year, has re-opened old cases where the government conducted inquiries based on anonymous complaints but did not find evidence against doctors. The committee wants to ensure that government officers have made any errors in the investigations relating to these four doctors, as they seem to have done in the case of Dr Babasaheb Khidrapure.

Sangli police officials investigating the death of 25-year-old Swati Jamdade say that Khidrapure, a homeopath, was allegedly performing illegal sex-selective abortions in Mhaisal, a village on the Maharashtra-Karnataka border and that Jamdade died while undergoing an abortion at his hospital. The doctor was arrested in March after police found several foetuses dumped on the banks of the Krishna river, a few meters away from Bharti Hospital run by him.

Jamdade’s death might have been averted if government health officials had previously not given Khidrapure a clean chit while conducting an inquiry into his practice in May 2016, based on an anonymous complaint. Dr Vijay Jadhav, medical superintendent of a rural hospital near Mhaisal had conducted the inquiry. At present, he is on a medical leave. Surprisingly, Jadhav’s report of the inquiry was signed by Khidrapure, said an official privy to the inquiry committee’s findings. “How can the inquiry report be signed by the person you are inquiring against?” asked the health official.

The committee investigating the abortion racket, headed by the dean of Government Medical College Dr Pallavi Sapade, found that the inquiry against Khidrapure conducted by Jadhav and other government doctors last May was unsatisfactory. In March this year, reported the holes in the inquiry.

The committee members are of the opinion that inquiries into the practices of at least four other doctors in Sangli might have been conducted in a similar fashion. This would mean that other doctors like Khidrapure continue to offer sex-determination tests and sex-selective abortions.

Under the scanner again

Sex-determination is banned in India as it frequently leads to female foetuses being aborted. This has triggered a gender imbalance in the country with fewer girls being born.

In the last three years, four complaints were registered on the helpline of the Maharashtra health department against doctors offering sex-determination tests and gender-based abortions. “In all the complaints, the doctors were not found guilty of any wrong –doings,” said a member of the committee.

The committee has decided to closely look into each of these complaints and how they were investigated. “Either the government officers are in connivance with these erring doctors or they are genuinely not aware on how an inquiry needs to be conducted,” said the committee member.

Meanwhile, the committee has recommended in its interim-report that the Maharashtra government bring further restrictions on buying medical termination of pregnancy kits. “The kits should be brought under Schedule X of the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, which will ensure that the doctor issues two prescriptions,” said a member of the committee. At present the kits are in the Schedule H category, which means that they cannot be sold without a registered medical practitioner’s prescription. Schedule X drugs have to be sold with a registered medical practitioner’s prescription and the prescription has to be in duplicate – one for the supplier or pharmacist to retain as record.

Varsha Deshpande, activist and advocate, said that in implementing these stricter rules the government should not compromise women’s legal right of access to abortions. The government should concentrate on nabbing doctors performing sex-determination instead, said Deshpande.