In a setback to the Mumbai police crime branch investigating an interstate child-selling racket, one of the prime accused in the case, Savita Salunkhe, was granted bail on Friday. The Mumbai police had rescued six children sold in the racket and arrested a total of 14 people, including the couples who had reportedly bought children from poor families.
Salunkhe, 30, had also been arrested in 2016 in connection with a child-stealing racket and was out on bail when she allegedly became involved with the interstate child-selling racket. While the crime branch is yet to file a chargesheet in the case, they fear that six other accused, who are in judicial custody, may also seek bail on grounds of parity.
On July 1, the Mumbai police crime branch had claimed to have unearthed a racket where children from poor families, especially from Govandi-Deonar area, were sold by intermediaries to childless couples. The children were sold by the gang for around Rs 3-4 lakh each. Police had arrested 14 people in the case.
A police officer said, seven of the 14 people arrested in the case, who had earlier been granted bail, were mainly people who purchased the children illegally. “Salunkhe is, however, one of the main accused in the case, as she was a vital link between buyers and those willing to sell their children. In the past too, she was arrested in connection with a child-stealing racket and was out on bail. However, she clearly did not mend her ways,” the officer said. The other accused, the officer added, who were part of the racket may also soon apply for bail citing Salunkhe’s case.
Salunkhe’s lawyer, Anil Kamble, said that she was granted bail and asked to pay a surety of Rs 35,000. “The case does not come under trafficking. Poor women, who did not have the wherewithal to take care of their children, voluntarily gave up their children so that they could have a better life,” Kamble said.
Explaining Salunkhe’s role, an officer said the woman worked as a security guard at a state-run hospital in Govandi. The maternity ward was located on the floor above the place where she was posted. “She would convince poor pregnant women admitted at the hospital to part with their children in lieu of giving them a better life. She would tell them that those ‘adopting’ the child would also pay them around a lakh for taking care of themselves,” the officer said. He added that another person arrested in the case, Bhagyashree Koli, was in-charge of looking for couples who wanted children.
An officer said that the police are still on the lookout for another accused based out of Delhi, who played a key role in the racket. While the police have tracked the biological parents of some of the children, they are yet to decide if they should be named as accused in the chargesheet. An officer said that the chargesheet will be filed in a month’s time.
The six rescued children, aged between one-and-a-half and seven years, are currently under the care of a Specialised Adoption Agency in Chembur.