Maharashtra sanctioning funds for AHTUs is a welcome step

FOR IMMIDEATE RELEASE
New Delhi/Kolkata, February 8, 2022: Survivors of human trafficking and activists laud the Maharashtra Government’s approval to disburse Rs 50.7 crore to establish and strengthen anti-human trafficking cells in the state, a decision which they believe would lead to more holistic investigations into trafficking cases resulting in better prosecutions and breaking the impunity of traffickers in source areas.

According to a news article, the government of Maharashtra has recently taken a decision to release the funds received under centrally sponsored scheme to strengthen anti-human trafficking cells in order to curb the cases of trafficking of women and children in the state. In January 2021, a division bench of the Bombay High Court, while hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by NGO Rescue Foundation along with survivors of trafficking and anti trafficking activists, observed that there were only 12 AHTCs functional in Maharashtra despite the state mandate to set up these units in all districts.

“Resource allocation for anti human trafficking units is an important step the Government of Maharashtra has taken to strengthen the police and empower them to conduct robust investigations in human trafficking cases. The Maharashtra police has a dismal record of neglecting inter-state investigations resulting in poor cases for the prosecution and that leads to acquittals.” said Nisha Mehroon, a sociologist, who is a petitioner in the PIL that resulted in this state response. Mehroon is also a member of Tafteesh, a networking and collective action platform for lawyers, researchers, social workers, mental health professionals and survivors of human trafficking.

The PIL which was filed in 2017 seeks the court’s intervention while presenting evidence from human trafficking cases that shows the police negligence in prosecuting traffickers who procure girls and young women from other states and sell them for commercial sexual exploitation in Maharashtra. The state of Maharashtra has remained a high-prevalence state in human trafficking, particularly for commercial sexual exploitation of girls.

According to Mehroon, “The neglect in investigations is partly because the AHTUs in Maharashtra conduct rescue operations but then leave the responsibility of investigations to the local police. These cases require interstate investigations, that require travel - which, for an investigator from the local thana becomes challenging for lack of time and resources. Since officers of these police stations are not required to travel across states and work within their jurisdictions, if they do have to travel across states, they are required to pay out of pocket and later claim reimbursements which takes months, sometimes years. Hence, interstate investigations are a disincentive for officers of local thanas. On the other hand, AHTUs were set up with the sole purpose of focusing on investigations of cases of human trafficking - and if they are to have the financial resources, the manpower, then this should improve the investigations of the cases leading to prosecution of traffickers and breaking of criminal networks operating between states of India”.

When Asma Molla, a trafficked survivor from West Bengal who was rescued from Maharashtra and also a petitioner of this PIL, heard this news, she said, “I am really very happy hearing this news. Once AHTU will investigate the entire chain of traffickers and build strong evidences, all the traffickers who were involved will be arrested and convicted. This will help in reducing trafficking as traffickers will fear that they will be arrested no matter wherever they are located.”

“We had filed this PIL in 2017. It’s been a long journey and we were getting frustrated with no results. This news has now given us some hope. I still see my trafficker moving freely in my community, really hope no other survivors of human trafficking will have to go through this anymore,” said Regina Khatoon one of the petitioners of this PIL and also a trafficked survivor from West Bengal rescued from Maharashtra.

 “Increased financial support to AHTUs is certainly a welcome development in Maharashtra. Over the last decade, the neglect of investigations has been consistent resulting in not only failure in justice delivery to survivors of trafficking but also impunity of traffickers across India” said Kaushik Gupta, a lawyer from Calcutta High Court. “This also reinforces the need to clarify the role of the AHTUs in legislation on human trafficking which can standardise its roles and responsibilities, and accountability across the country and not allow for non-uniformity between states” added Advocate Gupta, also a member of Tafteesh.

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For any clarification, contact: Nisha Mehroon on +91 98301 85510

About Tafteesh

Tafteesh is a collective action platform for researchers, lawyers, psychologists, journalists and survivors of human trafficking from across India, who work towards combating human trafficking for sexual exploitation and forced labour. For details, visit: www.tafteesh.org