WBSLSA order on use of compensation money set aside

Calcutta HC slams the ‘Big Brother’ approach of the disbursing authority towards survivors of human trafficking

The Calcutta High Court has set aside the directions of the West Bengal State Legal Services Authority (WBSLSA) making it mandatory that a sizeable portion of the compensation awarded to a survivor of human trafficking be kept in bank as fixed deposit for 10 years.

“We are in 2020 now, and not in ‘1984’ [as contemplated by George Orwell]. As such, the ‘Big Brother’ approach of the disbursing authority should be shunned and the victim should be free to spend the compensation granted to her/him at her/his option,” Justice Sabyasachi Bhattacharyya said on Wednesday.

The Big Brother reference is drawn from the iconic phrase “Big Brother is watching you” from Orwell’s book. Observing that the SLSA has no authority to control and monitor the amount of compensation disbursed to a victim who has attained majority, the court said the “right to commit a mistake inheres in the right to personal liberty and freedom and should not be curtailed mandatorily and arbitrarily by the SLSA merely because it is in charge of the purse‐string, ... ”.

2019 order

In August 2019, the WBSLSA issued a notification that 75% of the compensation awarded to survivors of trafficking should be kept in bank as fixed deposit for ten years. Two survivors of human trafficking who have received compensation moved the High Court challenging the WBSLSA directive.

In an affidavit, the WBSLSA termed certain expenditures such as purchasing property or spending the amount for making ornaments or for the marriage of the survivor, education of the survivor child “misuse” to which the court took strong objection.

Calling the WBSLSA’s arguments “unfortunate” Justice Bhattacharyya said “most of the reasons could have been justified on the ground of the necessity of the victim’s rehabilitation, in various forms. Thus, the argument of legality and justification of the impugned orders/notifications on the strength of such isolated events are not tenable in the eye of law.”

‘Can do more’

Welcoming the order, Kaushik Gupta, counsel for the petitioners, suggested that instead of trying to keep a check on purse strings of survivors, the WBSLSA could do more for the well being of the survivors.

“The WBSLSA can have a centre for psychological counselling for the survivors and have a financial counsellor as well who can tell the survivors on how to spend or invest the money,” Mr. Gupta said.

Subhasree Raptan, who runs a non-governmental organisation in south Bengal and has actively worked with both the petitioners, said it took years for both of them to get the compensation. “Both of them [survivors] are very poor. In their case, the highest compensation of ₹6 lakh was awarded. After the WBSLSA order, they could only withdraw 25%, which is ₹2 lakh. This was violative of the survivors’ right,” Ms. Raptan said.

Section 357-A of Code of Criminal Procedure has provisions to compensate victims who suffered because of a crime. In 2012, following the national outrage in response to the Nirbhaya rape case, the Government of India announced ₹1,000 crore fund to be used to combat sexual violence against persons — children or adults.

RTI reply

Response obtained through RTI reply from 25 States and seven Union Territories points out that between March 2011 and April 2019 only 82 survivors were awarded compensation, whereas the number of cases of human trafficking in the same period was over 35,000.

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Printable version | Jun 5, 2020 12:18:00 PM |

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