NEW DELHI: The Lok Sabha today passed a comprehensive law to deal with the menace of human trafficking, with Union Minister Maneka Gandhi stating that the legislation does not intend to harass sex workers.
Assuring that she would incorporate in the Rules any "lacunae" that the members have pointed out, the Women and Child Development Minister said the bill is intended to go after human traffickers and not the victims.
Members cutting across party lines supported the bill.
Even as Congress and CPI(M) demanded that the bill be sent to the standing committee, Gandhi said "the bill is long overdue. The law is victim-centric and conviction rate will hopefully improve after the bill is enacted".
The Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill, 2018, provides for confidentiality of victims, witnesses and complainants, time-bound trials and repatriation of the victims.
"This bill is not intended to harass those social workers who are voluntarily in the profession. This is a bill that has a compassionate view of people who have been victims of sex racket," Gandhi said.
"When 11 year-old Tara is trafficked from her village and sold into bonded labour, beaten and burnt by her owner, how do we save her? When she is sold to marriage to a 45-year-old man and raped everyday for months, how do we save her? We have no instituitions, no processes to do so," she said.
"And today if we are not passing this bill, we are choosing to deny Tara and all the millions like her fundamental right to life and liberty," Gandhi added.
The legislation proposes to create institutional mechanisms at the district, state and central levels.
It calls for punishment ranging from 10 years of rigorous imprisonment and a fine not less than Rs 1 lakh.
Besides prevention, rescue and rehabilitation, it covers aggravated forms of trafficking such as forced labour, begging and marriage.
"Begging is an aggravated crime. Often we get to see at traffic lights that women are begging holding a baby which is drugged and sleeping and is being fed milk. They are hired on an hourly or daily basis," Gandhi said.
She said a lot of countries have written to India saying that it is a good bill and they will also draft their respective anti-human trafficking law based on this.
For the first time, buying and selling of human beings is being made a cognisable offence, she said adding that the bill is pathbreaking step and SAARC and United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) nations are looking forward to India to take a lead by enancting this law.
"The proposed bill will hit organised nexus of trafficing," Gandhi said.
A rehabilitation fund with an initial corpus of Rs 10 crore would be created for the first time which willbe used for the physical, psychological and social well being of the victims.
Also there would be designated courts in each district for speedy trial of the cases.
Gandhi also assured the members in the House that the amount would increase as and when required.
The Bill provides for attachment and forfeiture of property and also the proceeds of crime.
The Minister, however, said that no property would be attached without giving notice.
A National Anti-Trafficking Bureau would be set up to perform functions of international coordination with authorities in foreign countries and international organisations.
Currently, India uses different laws to deal with human trafficking cases depending on the facts of the case.
The police sometimes uses the Immoral Traffic Prevention Act to raid brothels and rescue the women in it, while in other cases, the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act is used to prosecute traffickers.
The Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill, 2018, when enacted will be the only legislation dealing with all form of human trafficking.
Participating in the discussion, Congress MP Shashi Tharoor said the bill has been drafted "by the bureaucracy, for the bureaucracy" and the victims are the "least priority" in the bill.
Replying to Tharoor, the Minister said the draft bill has been in public domain for over a year and the Congress MP had not "shared his wisdom" so far.
Gandhi said during consultation on the bill, Tharoor had met her officially with representatives of sex workers to give their views, so that they are not harassed.
Earlier moving the bill for consideration and passage, Gandhi had said it attempted to create a legal, economic and social enviornment for victims.
Quoting data, she said as many as 19,223 children and women were trafficked in 2016 as against 15,448 in 2015.
Moreover, 1,11,569 children have been reported missing in 2016, she said adding that they are presumed to have been trafficked and abducted for explotitive purposes.
"The reality is actually and probably much worse," she said.
Participating in the debate, Pratima Mondal (TMC) said some provisions of the Bill were "vague" and gradation of offenses appears to be illogical.
It does not propose anything new other than what already exists in the present law, she said.
Welcoming the provisions, V Sathyabama (AIADMK) said the government should ensure that legislation is not misused.
She said the Bill enabled setting up of designated courts in each district and completion of trial in one year.
Pointing out that there are a lot of lapses in the Bill, Tathagata Satpathy (BJD) said it deserves proper scrutiny and should be sent to standing committee for fine tuning of the legislation.
It is something which has been haphazardly done without proper concern, he said while citing the recent incidence of exploitation in Muzzafarpur (Bihar), Satpathy said.
This Bill seems to be virtual copy of the American Bill, he said, adding it lacks community-based rehabilitation and labour law perspective is also missing.
Vinayak Raut Shiv Sena and Badauddoza Khan (CPM) too demanded referring the Bill to Standing Committee for improving effectiveness of the legislation.
K Geetha (YSR Congress) and Surpiya Sule (NCP) termed the menance as a social evil while Meenaskhi Lekhi (BJP) said trafficking is the third largest organised crime in the world.
Sule said although the intent of the units is noble, it has to be seen whether the bill takes into the consideration the emotional aspect.
She said the police needs to be sensitisied in this.
Vincent Pala (Congress) demanded that the bill should be referred to the select committee, while Heena Gavit (BJP) said although the Bill talks about the funds for rehabiltation, how much will the government contribute towards it.