Sex determination in Mandya: Around 1,000 foeticides, but will the accused be brought to book?

Out of the nine arrested in the case, three have already secured bail, even as the police are searching for a complainant.

ByBellie Thomas

Published Nov 27, 2023 | 7:44 PMUpdatedNov 27, 2023 | 7:44 PM

sex determination Karnataka female foeticide

An alleged sex determination racket busted in Karnataka recently was responsible for around 1,000 female foeticides over the past four years, according to rough estimates calculated based on the information gathered by the police.

The Karnataka Health Department is now set to recommend the disqualification of the doctors involved, besides cancelling the licences and registrations of hospitals involved in the alleged female foeticide racket that was unearthed a little over a month ago.

Speaking to South First, Health Minister Dinesh Gundu Rao said his department was working in tandem with the Bengaluru City Police that filed a case under the Pre-conception And Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques (PCPNDT) Act against nine people, accused of running a gender determination racket for a jaggery processing unit at Hosahalli in Mandya, some 100 km from the state capital.

“Our officials from the Health Department are in touch with the police. Punitive action can be taken against the doctors, hospitals and diagnostic centres involved. The Health Department will also seek the disqualification of the doctors and hospital staff involved in this case, and also the licences of the hospitals will be cancelled and they will be shut down,” the minister said.

The city police earlier wrote to the Health Department urging it to take cognisance of the suo motu case the Baiyappanahalli police had registered against nine people, including two doctors, for operating the sex determination racket from the Mandya jaggery unit.

Related: Police bust sex-determination racket in Mandya sugar factory

Investigation, arrests so far 

The police filed a First Information Report (FIR) on 15 October and immediately arrested four people, identified as Shivalingegowda of Mysuru, Nayan Kumar of Mandya, Naveen Kumar of Pandavapura in Mandya; and TM Veeresh of the Davanagere district.

After interrogating the accused, the police arrested five more people: Dr Tulasiram, a resident of Chennai, Dr Chandan Ballal, a resident of Mysuru, his wife Meena, who is the administrator of the Matha Hospital at Udyagiri in Mysuru, hospital receptionist Rizma Khan, and lab technician Nissar.

According to investigators, Dr Tulasiram’s mother Dr Latha owned a hospital in her name at the Udayagiri in Mysuru. She along with her son Dr Tulasiram used to exterminate female foetuses for a fee.

Just before the breakout of the Covid-19 pandemic, Dr Latha died, and following a dispute with other members of the management, Dr Tulasiram decided to sell the hospital.

Dr Ballal bought the hospital and changed its name to Matha. “With the help of the hospital receptionist, Rizma Khan, Dr Tulasiram, who had a list of people who wanted to know about the gender of their foetuses, passed it on to Dr Ballal,” police sources told South First.

Ayurveda centre as cover

The new owner carried out the termination of pregnancies for about 18 months.

Later, suspicious that information about the illegal act had been leaked, he stopped performing the procedure at Matha Hospital and instead started an Ayurveda centre for treating piles on Dr Rajkumar Road in Mysuru. He resumed his operations from the new centre, and continued for about two-and-a-half years, police sources said.

The police were in for a shock while interrogating the accused.

Interrogators learnt that the racket had been performing around 20 to 25 abortions every month for the past four years, which would come to more than 1,000 female foeticides.

“The gender determination of foetuses was carried out at the Mandya jaggery processing unit where lab technician Veeresh used to perform ultrasonography,” a senior police officer told South First.

The police said Veeresh used a portable ultrasound scanner, which he kept shifting from one place to another to avoid detection. Once the gender was revealed, the pregnant woman and her family would decide whether to terminate the pregnancy.

If they wanted to undergo an abortion, Veeresh would direct them to Dr Ballal in Mysuru.

The pregnant woman and the family would then head to the Ayurveda piles centre, where the pregnancy would be terminated.

“Dr Chandan Ballal charged around ₹ 25,000 to ₹30,000 for each abortion,” the officer said.

Also read: Foetus’s right vs woman’s autonomy conundrum

Police secure evidence 

The Baiyappanahalli police have recovered a register with the names and contact details of around 150 women, suspected to have undergone abortions at the Ayurveda centre.

“We have identified more than 10 women who had undergone abortions and have recorded their statements under Section 164 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC). The police have also secured WhatsApp communications between the receptionist Rizma Khan and the women patients about the schedule of the abortion procedures. The register was recovered from Dr Chandan Balla’s wife Meena,” the senior police officer said.

Station House Officer (SHO) of Baiyappanahalli police station M Prashanth told South First that the court would not take up the case without a complaint from the appropriate authority. Hence, the police wrote to the Health Department and requested a formal complaint.

“We have time until we prepare a charge sheet to find a complainant who is an appropriate authority and then the case would be strong and watertight,” Prashanth said.

Loopholes in the law

Legal experts, however, felt the accused might escape with a rap, using loopholes in the law.

A senior officer privy to the investigation told South First that out of the nine arrested, three have already been granted bail. Bail orders have been passed for Dr Tulasiram, Meena, and Rizma Khan, the officer added.

Cases registered under the PCPNDT Act and the IPC sections 511 (attempts to commit offences punishable with any imprisonment) and 312 (whoever voluntarily causes a pregnant woman to miscarry) attract punishment of only up to three years if the case goes to conviction.

Such cases, according to the law, are considered non-heinous, and the accused can walk out of jail on bail, the police officer explained.

Legal experts pointed out that there was a lacunae in the law in such cases.

“The law states that the offence is not heinous and could be tried in a magistrate court. And there is no complainant in the case, and the police have taken a suo-motu case. Even after a charge sheet is submitted, the benefit of the doubt will be inclined towards the accused parties and on that grounds, they could easily secure bail and be back in business,” Siji Malayil, a senior advocate specialising in criminal law in the High Court of Karnataka, told South First.

“To make the case stronger, each miscarriage/abortion incident should be treated as a separate offence and fresh FIRs need to be registered for each incident. This will turn out to be a humungous task for the police which is practically impossible,” Malayil added.

However, the police exuded confidence that they would do a meticulous investigation into the case submit a charge sheet and ensure that such violations would not go unpunished.