In a judgment earlier this month, the Calcutta High Court directed the state government to set up Anti-Human Trafficking Units in every district. It further called for the units to be manned by specially-trained police personnel, preferably women, not below the rank of Inspector. The order, issued by Justice Joymalya Bagchi and Justice Ravi Krishan Kapur on July 5, also said any FIRs dealing with human trafficking need to be transferred by local police stations to these specialised units within 24 hours of their being filed. The court was hearing an application filed by the state government on June 11, requesting the high court to cancel bail granted to an accused in a human trafficking case by an Alipore special court.
The trafficking case was filed at Bishnupur police station on September 9, 2017, under different sections of the IPC, the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO) and Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015. The accused is the owner of a hotel where the victims had allegedly been trafficked and sexually exploited.
Cancelling the bail, the HC observed, “… if an order granting bail/pre-arrest bail to an accused suffers from patent non-application of mind as to the gravity of offence and other relevant considerations, it is the duty of the superior court to set aside such perverse order. We are pained by the laconic and casual manner in which the learned Judge chose to allow an application for pre-arrest bail and that too in a case where the allegations relate to commercial sexual exploitation of underage girls by an organised crime racket.’’
In addition to setting up specialised anti-human trafficking units, the court also directed that the victims of trafficking be given medical attention. “… victims must be extended medical assistance which shall include psychological counselling in terms of section 357B of CrPC at appropriate specialised medical institutions of the State.’’
The court also ordered that after recording statements, the victims be given financial assistance “… by way of interim compensation and/or other rehabilitation measures provided under the Victim Compensation Scheme formulated by the State of West 6 Bengal under Section 357A.”
In the event that the victims are minors, they must be produced before the Child Welfare Committee for care, custody and rehabilitation, it said. The court called on jurisdictional magistrates or special courts to whom the cases are reported to seek a report from the authorities concerned with regard to providing of medical assistance, compensatory and/or other rehabilitation assistances to the victims.
“Wherever there is a threat perceptive to the victims and/or their families, they shall be extended police protection and other necessary protective measures by the trial court…” the order said. Saji Phillip, the Director Operations of International Justice Mission, the anti-trafficking organisation which assisted the state police in the case, said, “There is an anti-trafficking unit in the CID West Bengal which specifically investigates these cases, but very often the cases don’t reach them. The investigation carried out by the local police is often not upto standard and therefore affects the trial. The court judgment is extremely significant in that sense. Not only has it come down hard on trafficking by cancelling the bail, but its direction that the cases be transferred to specialised agency will ensure that the investigation is done properly.”
Phillip added that in many instances, by the time the case is transferred to the anti-trafficking unit, the FIRs are sometimes diluted, the accused’s name is removed or the victim is intimidated by the accused. “But if the cases are transferred within 24 hours… the investigation will be stronger and so will the prosecution,’’ he said, adding that in West Bengal, only 10 per cent of all cases are prosecuted.
The high court too addressed the problems with the initial handling of trafficking cases, saying, “… we note with grave concern the lackadaisical manner in which offences involving commercial sexual exploitation of women and children like the present one are investigated, prosecuted and/or pursued.’’