What is the child trafficking case in Jalpaiguri, West Bengal?
On February 18, the West Bengal CID arrested Chandana Chakraborty (55), chairperson of the NGO Bimala Sishu Griho, from Jalpaiguri’s Falakata area. The CID had begun investigation after receiving a complaint from the Central Adoption Resource Authority (CARA) — the apex body for adoptions at the Centre — about “irregularities” at the home after 11 infants were suddenly moved from there to homes in Cooch Behar and North Dinajpur.
After the investigation and raids, the CID claimed that apart from Sishu Griho, two other homes — Ashray Short Stay Home and North Bengal People’s Development Committee — were involved in an “international” infant smuggling racket, selling babies to buyers in France, the US, Singapore and Spain. Apart from Chakraborty, who owns the three homes, the CID also arrested 30-year-old Sonali Mondal, the chief adoption officer.
How did the alleged traffickers operate?
According to the CID, Chakraborty sourced the babies using Ashray Short Stay Home, a shelter for pregnant women. “With Ashray, she had a steady supply of pregnant women looking for shelter,” a CID officer said. “Some of them didn’t have the means to take care of the child. She would convince them that the child would be adopted and looked after through her NGOs and get them to give up the babies. The newborns were then kept in Bimala Sishu Griha. Only a few trusted employees were allowed to work at Ashray, and it appears that Mondal and she were the only people who knew that the babies coming into Sishu Griha weren’t abandoned but were born at Ashray.”
Who is Juhi Chowdhury?
Juhi Chowdhury was the general secretary of the BJP’s Jalpaiguri Mahila Morcha, and has been accused of helping the traffickers through political influence. Her father, Rabindra Narayan Chowdhury, was a BJP state committee leader and a party district unit chief. Both were removed by the BJP on Wednesday. According to the CID, after Sishu Griho ran into trouble with the Union Ministry of Women and Child Development, Chowdhury took Chakraborty to Delhi to meet with officials. According to the CID, the women visited Delhi on at least two occasions. The CID claims to have recovered North Block entry and exit receipts during the raids. According to the CID, Chakraborty was trying, through Chowdhury, to find a way to “communicate” with CARA and Ministry officials. Chowdhury’s father has said that Chakraborty had approached the family for help with “funds” and “documents and permissions from the Centre” for her NGO, but they had refused.
Why and how was Chowdhury arrested?
After being named in an FIR at the Jalpaiguri Kotwali Police Station, Chowdhury denied the allegations and claimed she had only asked Chakraborty to utilise the “correct channels”. She went underground soon after, hiding, according to the CID, in an area about 10 km from the Nepal border. But she allegedly kept in touch with her father, and on February 27, investigators were able to zero in on her location in the Kharbari police station area in Bastai in Darjeeling. Two officers of the CID’s Special Operation Group were deployed in the area, while another two officers posed as priests in a nearby temple. On February 28, they rang Chowdhury’s doorbell.
Chowdhury has been booked under IPC sections 370 (5) (where the offence involves the trafficking of more than one minor), 420 (cheating), 467 and 468 (forgery), 120B (criminal conspiracy), 201 (tampering with evidence) and various sections of the Juvenile Justice Act. ADG (CID) Rajesh Kumar said, “She won’t be brought to Kolkata, the interrogation will continue in North Bengal. She will definitely reveal things. A few more people who have been named will be called for interrogation.”
How has the BJP reacted to the developments?
The fact that Chowdhury decided to hide after being named in the FIR has been widely criticised within the party, including by its Rajya Sabha MP and state women’s wing president Roopa Ganguly and Union Minister Babul Supriyo. However, state BJP president Dilip Ghosh had initially remained steadfast in his support of Chowdhury, alleging a “conspiracy” by the Trinamool Congress government, and accusing the CID of trying to “malign” the BJP.
Ghosh finally fell in line on Wednesday, and clarified that while the BJP still believed there was a conspiracy against it, Chowdhury had broken party discipline by taking someone to Delhi with her. He said, “Today we held a state committee meeting where it was decided that both Juhi and her father would be removed from their posts for gross indiscipline… The party’s image will continue to get affected if action is not taken against them. We have taken the decision not because of allegations made against them but for gross indiscipline in the party.”
What is likely to happen next?
The political mudslinging is likely to intensify as the investigation progresses. Chakraborty has previously alleged that Chowdhury had met BJP national general secretary and central observer for West Bengal Kailash Vijayvargiya and MP Roopa Ganguly. Both have, however, denied any knowledge of the alleged child trafficking racket. For now, the CID is “verifying” the names of influential people with whom the two women allegedly met to seek help in running the adoption centre. The BJP has alleged that the investigation was specifically targetting BJP leaders, and that Chakraborty’s connections with Trinamool leaders were being ignored. In the atmosphere of allegations and counterallegations, the BJP has again raised the Saradha and Rose Valley chit fund scams, in which a number of Trinamool leaders have been implicated.