Award of 9 lakh compensation to trafficked victim would set a precedent

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KOLKATA, Nov 23, 2020: A District Legal Services Authority (DLSA) in West Bengal has awarded Rs 9 lakh to a survivor of human trafficking as compensation, under the provisions of the West Bengal Victim Compensation Scheme, believed to be the highest amount to be awarded to any survivor of human trafficking in the country.

“Such an order was possible due to the use of previous Calcutta High Court judgements in cases of Achiya Bibi and Serina Mondal,” says Nisha Mehroon, who studies and facilitates a programme that targets improvement of India’s Victim Compensation Scheme for survivors of trafficking. “Those two judgments were instrumental because West Bengal State Legal Service Authority (SLSA) had denied compensation to the survivors on the grounds that the accused traffickers had not been traced or identified, and trial had not commenced,” adds Ms Mehroon. 

The two survivors, who were served by Tafteesh Lawyers, a team of lawyers who provide counsel to survivors of trafficking in India, moved a writ petition before the Hon’ble Calcutta High Court which ordered SLSA to pay compensation to a trafficking victim even as investigation was ongoing and trial was yet to begin.

“The Calcutta High Court ruled that victim of a crime has the right to receive compensation notwithstanding the result of criminal proceedings and denial of compensation would continue to be violation of that right and perpetrate gross inhumanity on the victim” reminds advocate Kaushik Gupta, who is a member of Tafteesh.

“Any kind of judgement that protects the rights of the underprivileged and the victims is welcome, and it paves the way as a precedent for future litigation and judgements,” Kaushik comments on the recent awarding of 9 lakhs, to a claim represented by Advocate Joanna Sarkar who works with International Justice Mission, an NGO that assisted the claimant.

“However, the problem that still remains is that the entire process of victim compensation has not yet been systematised, and only the victims who has the support of NGOs are able to apply for compensation because most of the victims don’t know how to go through the entire legal process. The National Legal Services Authority needs to systematise the process wherein the burden of having to apply and fight for entitlements through appeals does not fall onto survivors or NGOs,” adds Mr. Gupta.

Serina Mondal, one of the petitioners who appealed in the High Court after her plea for compensation was rejected twice in 2018, said she was extremely happy to know that a fellow survivor has been awarded 9 lakhs as compensation. “The compensation is an acceptance by the State of its responsibility in failing to protect its citizens from getting trafficked and subjected to organised exploitation and violence. The compensation funds can help us build a future for ourselves. The stigma of being a trafficked victim will subside only when we become economically independent,” says Serina.

A national study on victim compensation, released earlier this year, reveals that only 107 of the 38,503 survivors of human trafficking reported by National Crime Records Bureau between 2010 and 2017 have applied for victim compensation. And only 77 of them have received compensation, awarded arbitrary with low compensation amounts. The claims were set randomly or without much thought by incompetent authorities, who are driven by ‘charity mindsets’ while determining amounts.

“We still have a long way to go in the fight against this organised crime and ensure protection of rights of victims and the payment of rightful compensation to those the state machinery fails to protect,” Mr Gupta concludes.

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Tafteesh is a platform for anti-trafficking stakeholders including lawyers, researchers, psychologists, social workers and survivors of trafficking. For more information, visit: www.tafteesh.org  

For any query, please contact  Ms Nisha Mehroon @ +91 98301 85510