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Discrepancies bog down Anti Human Trafficking Units, study finds

Representational image.

Representational image.  

At a time when the Union government and States are placing an emphasis on setting up Anti Human Trafficking Units (AHTU) in every district to combat trafficking across the country, discrepancies in the composition and functioning of AHTUs across different States have come to the fore.

Right To Information (RTI) applications filed by five lawyers from the different parts of the country have revealed variations in the terms of notifications of AHTUs; the utilisation of allocated funds; training undertaken by them; and the kind of cases they have looked into. A detailed report on the response to the RTI queries has been compiled by Sanjog, an organisation involved in training and research on gender-based violence.

Districts covered

“Bihar, Kerala, Nagaland, Rajasthan, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Uttarakhand have AHTUs covering all their districts,” the report states. It adds that States like Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh have very low numbers of AHTUs in proportion to the number of districts in each State.

The RTI application sought details of AHTUs notified in the respective States between 2010 and 2019 from all 33 States and Union territories, but 11 State/UTs did not respond. The total number of AHTUs set up in the country from 2010-19 in the 22 States/UTs that responded to the RTI query stands at 271.

MHA advisory

Pompi Banerjee, a psychologist and member of Sanjog, who has worked closely on the compilation of the report, said that the research should be considered in the light of the recent directive of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), where the Ministry states that AHTUs should be mandatorily set up in all districts, and places the responsibility on the State in achieving this objective. The advisory, titled ‘Prevention and combating [of] human trafficking especially during the period of COVID-19 pandemic’, has been addressed to the Chief Secretary and Director General of Police of all States/UTs.

The study also looks into other aspects of the functioning of AHTUs, particularly in the types of cases handled by these units. Cases of human trafficking investigated by AHTUs can invoke legal provisions of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC); the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956 (ITPA); and the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 (POCSO).

More POSCSO cases

“POCSO case numbers were much higher in most States than cases under the IPC and ITPA. Kerala had the highest number of POCSO cases registered, followed by Chhattisgarh and Bihar,” the study said. In fact, the number of POCSO cases registered with the AHTU in Kerala between 2010 and 2019 was as high as 12,724, followed by 7,385 cases registered in Chhattisgarh and 6,770 in Bihar.

In terms of the budget and funding of AHTUs, a number of States responded by saying that the issue was outside the ambit of the RTI Act. Among the States that responded, Tamil Nadu had utilised over 92% of the ₹90.9 lakh allocated to AHTUs, while Kerala had utilised 99.9% of the ₹68.2 lakh allocated to AHTUs. Bihar had spent about 76% of the ₹1.06 crore allocated, while the spending for Himachal Pradesh, which has been allocated ₹15.16 lakh, is nil.

Not all cases brought

Ms. Banerjee said that only setting up of AHTUs was not enough in dealing with the issue of human trafficking unless cases of all kinds of trafficking are brought before the specialised units.

“Experiences from the ground suggest that AHTUs are not involved in all cases of trafficking. In certain cases of trafficking for sexual exploitation in West Bengal and labour trafficking in Bihar, AHTUs are not being involved, which is preventing inter-State investigation in these cases,” the activist from Sanjog added.

She cited three recent cases in South 24 Parganas, where the police have evoked Sections related to kidnapping in cases of trafficking “This is a clear violation of a well-known order by Justice Joymalya Bagchi of the Calcutta High Court specifying that in cases of trafficking of minor girls, Sections related to the POCSO Act and the ITPA have to be mandatorily added in the FIR and that the case should be investigated by AHTUs,” Ms. Banerjee added.

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Printable version | Sep 19, 2020 7:55:35 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/discrepancies-bog-down-anti-human-trafficking-units-study-finds/article32305052.ece

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