New Delhi: The government on Tuesday told the Supreme Court that it does not support commercial surrogacy in order to protect the rights of surrogate mothers.

In an affidavit, the government said “altruistic surrogacy to needy, infertile married Indian couples" will be allowed after thorough checks are done on the couples.

On 26 October, the Directorate General of Foreign Trade restricted the import of human embryos to research purposes, as per guidelines issued by the department of heath research (DHR), an arm of the health and family welfare ministry.

As per a 2013 notification of the commerce ministry, which has since been withdrawn, human embryos could be freely imported, subject to a no-objection certificate from the Indian Council of Medical Research.

This means foreigners can no longer avail of surrogacy services in India.

The DHR guidelines suggested that only infertile married Indian couples ought to be allowed to avail of the surrogacy facility and not foreign couples.

The affidavit also informed the court that DHR has framed a draft surrogacy bill which will cover state governments and Union territories. A copy of the draft Assisted Reproductive Techniques (Regulation) Bill, 2014 has been uploaded on DHR’s website for suggestions from the public and stakeholders.

The Times of India reported early on Wednesday that the government intends to inform the apex court of its decision to prohibit commercial surrogacy.

A bench comprising justices Ranjan Gogoi and N.V. Ramana expressed displeasure at government personnel sharing information contained in the affidavit with a newspaper before presenting it in court.

The Supreme Court is already considering a public interest litigation (PIL) against commercial surrogacy, claiming that Indian women from poor and lower middle class households are being exploited, especially by foreign couples.

In this connection, in October, the court expressed concern over “trading of human embryos" and suggested that the government should consider banning commercial surrogacy. It framed 14 queries for the government to answer. The affidavit answers these questions.

The home ministry is also likely to file an affidavit in the case within two weeks. The ministry’s role in the case relates to the grant of medical visas to foreigners for surrogacy, which the PIL sought a ban on.

“A complete ban on surrogacy is a welcome step. Surrogacy is a disguised word for child buying and regulation cannot help to protect the rights of women. The ecosystem that feeds on women’s poverty needs to end and along with this the government should also take steps to mitigate poverty," said Kavitha Krishnan, secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association.

The court will hear the case next on 24 November.

Apurva Vishwanath contributed to this story.

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