The Lok Sabha on Wednesday passed a bill to regulate and supervise assisted reproductive technology clinics, with various members urging the government not to exclude single parents and the LGBTQ community from using this procedure.
Some members said since a bill on surrogacy is pending in Rajya Sabha and the two draft legislations are inter-linked, both should be passed together.
During discussion, Revolutionary Socialist Party's N K Premachandran raised the point of order on an issue related to the assisted reproductive technology (ART) bill being dependent on another (surrogacy) bill.
"The surrogacy bill is pending in the Upper House, that has not been passed. How can this House pass a law depending upon another law... My point is that this bill cannot be taken into consideration, this bill cannot be discussed," he said.
Responding to this, Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya said that the surrogacy bill was passed in Lok Sabha and now it is in Rajya Sabha, and immediately after that "we brought this ART bill" and both the bills will now be taken up in the Upper House together.
Speaker Om Birla ruled that since the surrogacy bill is not pending in Lok Sabha, the the Assisted Reproductive Technology (Regulation) Bill, 2021, can be taken up and passed by the Lower House.
Mandaviya said after the debate that "we don't want the assisted reproductive technology to become an industry".
Responding to demand by a member that single men should be allowed to use the procedure, he said the matter relates to the overall development of the child.
He said single mothers can avail "benefit" of the proposed ART law.
During discussion on the bill, BSP's Sangeeta Azad and TMC's Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar both raised the issue of exclusion of single parents and the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender) community from using this procedure.
They have a right to be parents too, they said.
Welcoming the bill, Nationalist Congress Party's Supriya Sule said that besides couples, there are a cross-section of people in this country who want to have a child, especially the LGBTQ community and single men.
She said that because of adoption rules of 2017, single men cannot adopt a girl and that is why they cannot avail this bill's benefits.
"This is something we, as a society, need to introspect... I think we should not deprive any human being who deserves or wants to have a child. Why do we not put all the bright minds together... and see how we can make sure that everybody can make use of all legislations we make," Sule said.
Passed by a voice vote, the Assisted Reproductive Technology (Regulation) Bill, 2021, seeks for the regulation and supervision of assisted reproductive technology clinics and assisted reproductive technology banks, prevention of misuse, and safe and ethical practice of assisted reproductive technology services.
Mandaviya also moved various amendments to the ART bill based on recommendations made by a parliamentary committee.
Earlier, moving the bill for passage and consideration, Mandaviya said it was tabled in Lok Sabha in September last year and the Lower House had referred it to a standing committee.
Many suggestions came from the standing committee and the government considered them, he said.
"Many such ART clinics have been running in the country without regulation. A need was felt for regulation of such clinics as there are implications on health of those who undertake the procedure," Mandaviya said.
"We cannot allow unethical practices. Those who are involved in unethical practices must be punished," he said.
According to PRS India, a legislative think-tank, the bill introduced last year had provisions that offences will be punishable with a fine between Rs 5 and Rs 10 lakh for the first contravention. For subsequent contraventions, these offences will be punishable with imprisonment for a term between eight and 12 years, and a fine between Rs 10 and Rs 20 lakh, the bill's provisions state.
Any clinic or bank advertising or offering sex-selective ART will be punishable with imprisonment between five and ten years, or fine between Rs 10 lakh and Rs 25 lakh, or both, the bill's provisions state, according to PRS India.
Initiating a debate on the bill, Congress's Karti Chidambaram said this law is Victorian as it is not all encompassing.
It excludes those who cannot afford this expensive procedure for a baby and the government should consider supporting poor childless parents for taking ART's help, Chidambaram said.
He also suggested that the government consider including LGBTQ in the bill's ambit.
The Bharatiya Janata Party's Heena Gavit said the bill seeks to set minimum standards and codes of conduct for fertility clinics and egg or sperm banks.
It also proposes stringent punishment for those practising sex selection and sale of human embryos or gametes.
"Ensuring confidentiality of commissioning couples, women and donors will also be done under the aegis of this proposal of the Cabinet. The bill also has a provision that those involved in trafficking and sale of embryos will be fined Rs 10 lakh at first instance and in second instance, the person can be imprisoned for up to 12 years," she added.
Speaking on the bill, Dastidar, herself a specialist in the field, said experts should be involved at every level to monitor the bill's provisions.
YSRCP's B Venkata Satyavathi said while she and her party supported the bill, there are only six IVF centres in government sector, while thousands exist in private sector.
Janata Dal-United's Alok Kumar Suman contended that the cost of the procedure should be effectively monitored so that even the poor can can avail its services.
Biju Janata Dal's Anubhav Mohanty said the bill discriminates against the LGBTQ community.
He said the health minister should reconsider this bill and should not bring it in in a hurry as there are some issues that need consideration.
Supporting the bill, BJP's Rita Bahuguna Joshi said stringent measures are necessary to streamline things.
Leader of Congress party in Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said the bill violates Article 14 of India's Constitution. He also noted that the bill is silent on the rights of children.