In April 2006, the Central Government of India, through the Ministry of Home Affairs in partnership with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime took up a project on “Strengthening the law enforcement response in India against trafficking in persons through training and capacity building”, in order to raise awareness of law enforcement officers (police and prosecutors) on the problem of human trafficking and to build their capacity to better investigate and prosecute offenders perpetrating the crime.
One of the objects of the project was the establishment of Anti Human Trafficking Units (AHTUs) at the district level in five (5) states, namely Maharashtra, West Bengal, Goa, Andhra Pradesh and Bihar. The MHA has then issued several advisories asking all States and UTs to set up AHTUs in all police districts making it mandatory for AHTUs to investigate all human trafficking cases.
What is AHTU?
AHTUs are specialized investigation units with the law enforcement that were created upon the directive of the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, in 2008, by state governments in their respective states.AHTUs are mandated to address all three aspects of trafficking, namely prevention, protection and prosecution. Further, the AHTUs would be responsible for developing databases on traffickers and networking with all other concerned agencies. The 2010 MHA notification contains a detailed list of assets to be provided to each AHTU, as well as a list of officials and representatives to constitute every AHTU.
What is the reality?
A study on human trafficking cases of the past has shown some unnerving experiences of the victims, raising a question against the conduct of the investigation by officers in charge. Most of the cases acquitted in the court of law weren’t due to the false complaints of the victim, but mostly due to the lack of benchmarking pieces of evidence to prove the trafficker guilty. Nothing could be done after the case is closed and the victim is left with nothing but hopelessness.
A case of human trafficking is first reported to the local police of the area as a complaint. The decision to take on the investigation of the case or transfer the case to an Anti Human Trafficking Unit lies with the Officer in Charge of the police station. However, it does not happen often. In trafficking cases where the investigating officer is from a local police station, the investigation is mostly restricted to the jurisdiction of the police station, wherein the officer tries to gather evidence and witness to the crime available in the jurisdiction. This may suffice well for most crimes that are local - even if grievous. However, when a crime involves multiple sites and networks spreading across states, it requires powers, resources and privileges that may not lie with a local police station - such as funds, time and manpower, and usually, such cases, if significant and grievous, are taken up by specialised agencies. Hence, these cases are required to be investigated by AHTUs.
What does the research say?
A study conducted by Sanjog, a technical resource organisationspecialised in research and policy advocacy on issues of trafficking in children and women, and Tafteesh revealed that a total of 225 AHTUs are set up only on paper with no centralised process to notify them. It also revealed that most of the AHTU postings were only seen as ‘notional’ offices occupied by near-retirees or police officials taking on ‘punishment postings.
In our programme area, we ensure that all partner organisations supporting survivors of human trafficking ensure that the cases are being transferred to anti-human trafficking units set up in district headquarters.
• 23 trafficking cases transferred to AHTUs for investigationInterstate investigations happened in 5 cases
• In 4 cases, survivors were accompanied by AHTU officials to identify the place of crime and identify the accused as part of the investigation
• Survivors report that AHTU officials have been sensitive andwell behaved compared to local investigation officers (IOs)
Transfer of cases to AHTUs for investigation has shown potential for punishment of traffickers due to better investigation including interstate investigation with appropriate usage of sections of ITPA, POCSO Act and 370 of IPC