In July, the Ministry of Home Affairs had asked the states and UTs to expedite the setting up of new anti-human-trafficking units (AHTU) and upgrade the infrastructure of the existing ones. But while 51 per cent of the AHTUs are notified with all power and resources, only 27 per cent are operational, revealed a study conducted by Sanjog, a technical resource organisation that specialises in research and policy advocacy on issues of trafficking in children and women, and Tafteesh, a coalition of lawyers, activists, social workers.
The study was spearheaded by five Delhi-based lawyers, who filed RTIs in 33 states and UTs. “It collated data between June 2010 and March 2019 with the objective of evaluating the effectiveness of the AHTUs to find out the number of AHTUs actually notified, through RTIs,” adds Pompi Banerjee, a psychologist and researcher at Sanjog and a member of Tafteesh.
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’.
Banerjee says, “As a result of the pandemic, many people are facing job loss and financial hardship. This makes them more vulnerable to trafficking. Therefore, it is important to understand the effectiveness of the AHTUs, especially when the Ministry of Home Affairs issued an advisory asking the States and UTs to set up new AHTUs and upgrade the existing ones. It had also allocated Rs 100 crore from the Nirbhaya Fund in this regard.”
Banerjee further adds, “The varied narratives provided by the lived experiences of stakeholders engaging with AHTUs in different parts of India show that in some places, AHTUs have been seen to be ‘useful’ to the anti-trafficking system, as an investigative agency with competence. This report talks about the gaps in the system, We hope to add to the ongoing dialogue on how to strengthen the system of justice. We will soon submit the report to the government.