SK Mandal, the chief medical officer in central Chhattisgarh state where the operations were performed, said the surgeon was arrested after he had gone into hiding.
According to Dr Mandal, the suspect, RK Gupta, performed more than 80 sterilisation procedures in six hours – a breach of government protocol which prohibits surgeons from performing more than 30 in a day.
The operations were part of a free government-run sterilisation campaign aimed at curbing a booming population. The women were sent home after the ops but dozens became ill. Thirteen died and 16 are fighting for their lives.
Gupta was arrested at a relatives’ home in Bilaspur city.
A total of 83 women had the surgery, but dozens became ill and were rushed in ambulances to private hospitals in Bilaspur.
Dr Mandal said investigators were trying to determine whether the women, all of them poor villagers, had been given tainted medicine during their time at the “health camp”.
Experts say the deaths are the result of a lack of medical oversight and the fact that the government in India sets sterilisation targets as part of its efforts to stabilise the population.
India’s government had said it stopped setting targets for sterilising women in the 1990s, but doctors and human rights workers have alleged for years that targets exist, leading to coercion in villages where most people have limited access to education and health care. Dr Mandal said Gupta was probably under pressure to achieve his district’s target of about 15,000 sterilisations.
In January, he was feted by the state government for performing 50,000 laparoscopic tubectomies.
Activists blame the quotas for leading health authorities to pressure patients into surgery rather than advising them on other forms of contraception.
“These women have become victims because of the target-based approach to population control,” said Brinda Karat of the All India Democratic Women’s Association. She demanded that the state’s health minister resign.