New Delhi: The government on Monday introduced a bill in the Lok Sabha to ban commercial surrogacy.

The Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill, 2016, seeks to limit the ambit of surrogacy through strict rules.

In the absence of regulatory teeth, India had emerged as a surrogacy hub for childless couples from across the world with more than 2,000 assisted reproductive clinics, creating a market worth an estimated $2 billion. The only regulation so far had been the Indian Council of Medical Research’s non-enforceable National Guidelines for Accreditation, Supervision and Regulation of Artificial Reproductive Technology Clinics in India issued in 2015.

The lack of regulatory mechanisms had resulted in concerns regarding unethical practices, exploitation of surrogate mothers by agents or family, as well as abandonment of children born out of surrogacy.

However, the bill, which has been criticized by experts as being too heavy-handed, seeks to proscribe commercial surrogacy, but leaves the option of “altruistic" surrogacy open. The latter depends upon multiple conditions, like the number of years of marriage of the couple desirous of surrogacy, sexual orientation of the couple (heterosexual), choice of surrogate and citizenship of couples, among others.

The bill further allows only Indian citizens to avail of surrogacy, while foreigners, non-resident Indians, Persons of Indian Origin, divorced or judicially separated couples are kept out.

Introducing the surrogacy bill in late August with health minister J.P. Nadda, foreign minister Sushma Swaraj had said that the “ethos" of the country forbade extending surrogacy rights to non-married and same-sex couples.

The bill allows surrogacy only for legally married couples after five years of marriage and with a medical certificate from a doctor stating that the couple are medically unfit to have a child. As per the bill, the surrogate mother can only be a close married relative, having at least one healthy biological child. Additionally, a woman can be a surrogate only once in her lifetime.

Industry experts have warned that since the demand for surrogacy is not expected to wane, such restrictions, regardless of well-placed intentions, may prove to be disastrous in the longer run as it will run the risk of pushing the business underground, making it harder to protect the mother and the child.