On Wednesday, private practice radiologists across the state went on a one-day token strike. Most of you would have missed it, since private practice radiology is not an essential service and public and private hospitals did not join the strike. Radiologists are doctors who perform and interpret x-ray studies, sonographies, CT scans, MRIs, angiograms and PET/CT scans and perform biopsies and other image-guided treatment procedures.
The strike was to protest the high-handedness of the Nanded police, who without proof arrested a radiologist, Dr. Gopal Battalwar, under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act on July 27. He is still in prison, denied bail.
On 24th July, a lady, Savita Ashture was admitted to a local Nanded hospital with heavy bleeding following an illegal abortion performed by a quack, Begum Arifabee, to terminate a female pregnancy. When the authorities were alerted, the police arrested Ms. Arifabee. They also found a routine pregnancy sonography report issued by Dr. Battalwar. Ms. Arifabee and the patient told the police that a non-medical assistant of Dr. Battalwar had revealed to them the sex of the child. Suspecting Dr. Battalwar’s involvement, the police arrested him and dumped him in jail without bail, despite the assistant saying that she was acting on her own.
There is no proof that Dr. Battalwar had revealed the sex of the fetus to anyone. Even assuming he did, there is an Act, the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act (PC-PNDT) that has a clear procedure laid down for the law to follow. The appropriate authority (AA) who may be the collector or the ward-officer or the civil surgeon first seals the sonography machine and clinic, then institutes an investigation, files a case in civil or criminal court depending on the gravity of the crime (ranging from simple mistakes in paper-work to the actual heinous crime of revealing the sex) and if the sonologist / radiologist is found guilty, prosecutes him/her.
Dr. Battalwar has been arrested under the MTP Act, which applies only to those who perform illegal abortions. He had nothing to do with the abortion – radiologists DO NOT perform abortions – it is gynecologists, obstetricians, doctors authorised by the Govt. and quacks who do this. To arrest Dr. Battalwar for a crime he hasn’t committed, without due process or proof, and to keep him without bail for 14 days, is a travesty of the law. When there is a clear process laid down by an Act of Parliament related to sex determination violations, the police has no authority or right to side-step the law and to act on its own volition.
This kind of “police-raj” has become all too common. Arresting someone first, denying bail and then investigating and asking questions later…this has now become the norm. In the past too, the police has arrested doctors for negligence without any investigation or proof, based solely on complaints by patients…the Supreme Court has now put a stop to this, but there is no guarantee that a doctor may still not get arrested if the police rakes up some or the other obscure reason.
Despite the fact that 95-99% of all radiologists practicing obstetric sonography follow the PC-PNDT law to the letter and in spirit and DO NOT reveal the sex of the child to anyone, there has been no change in the sex ratio, telling us that it is the people at large demanding to know the sex of their unborn and the gynecologists who perform illegal abortions, who are the culprits…not the radiologists. The authorities have to shift their focus on to pregnant parents and more importantly the gynecologists and related doctors who are the ones actually performing female feticide. And the police needs to be a little less trigger-happy when it comes to radiologists and other similar soft targets!
Disclaimer: Bhavin Jankharia is also a practicing consultant radiologist.