P&H High Court Highlights Gender Inequality Caused by Selective Pregnancy Termination

punjab and haryana high court Law Insider

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Published on: December 24, 2023 at 12:00 IST

The Punjab & Haryana High Court, in a recent judgment, underscored the perpetuation of gender inequality through selective pregnancy termination and strongly condemned forced abortions conducted in unhygienic clinics as an infringement on the right to bodily autonomy, as protected under Article 21.

The Court, presided over by Justice Harpreet Singh Brar, refused to quash an FIR against a female doctor accused of illegal sex determination, asserting that the Preconception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act, 1994 (PNDT Act) mandates that cognizance can only be taken upon a complaint filed by the appropriate authority.

The Court highlighted the social biases leading to a preference for male children, resulting in a skewed sex ratio. It emphasized the cultural and social roots of such biases, contributing not only to misogyny but also endangering the health of expectant mothers.

The judgment contended that selective termination of pregnancies exacerbates gender inequality, creating an unsafe environment detrimental to the cause of gender justice.

The Court firmly asserted that forced, illicit abortions in unhygienic clinics directly infringe upon the right to bodily autonomy, violating the constitutional right enshrined under Article 21.

Justice Brar stressed the importance of considering the legislative intent behind the PNDT Act, cautioning against hyper-technical interpretations that may undermine the statute’s purpose. The court noted that the Act serves a social utility, and a restrictive interpretation would defeat its overarching objectives.

The case involved Dr. Rachna Raina, facing charges under Sections 29, 4, 5(2), 6(b) of the PNDT Act and Section 120-B IPC for allegedly conducting an illegal sex determination. The court dismissed the plea to quash the FIR, emphasizing that the stage for taking cognizance under the PNDT Act had not been reached, and the police’s power to investigate was not completely barred.

In the Court’s examination of Sections 27 and 28 of the Act and Section 18-A of PNDT Rules, 1996, it acknowledged that while the offences under the PNDT Act are cognizable, non-bailable, and non-compoundable, Rule 18-A indicates that the police can assist the Appropriate Authority when necessary.

The bench clarified that when police receive information about a cognizable offence, they must register an FIR and proceed with the investigation. However, under the PNDT Act, the court can only take cognizance based on a complaint by the Appropriate Authority.

In conclusion, the court dismissed the plea, highlighting that the investigation was ongoing, and the stage for taking cognizance had not been reached.

Title: Dr. Rachna Raina v. State of Haryana

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