Saturday, February 25, 2017

What happened to the 15th Draft of the proposed law the Anti Human Trafficking Bill?

The Ministry of Women & Child Development Govt of India took up an initiative in 2015 to come up with an omnibus law against human trafficking and constituted a Committee in September 2015 in which it also included a handful representatives of a few civil society organizations and a couple of ‘experts’. The Committee operated for app. 7 months and in May 2016 it came up with a Draft of the Bill which was shockingly poor in content and quality. It also exhibited utter ignorance about the situation of trafficking, the priority areas needing legal provisions, the national, regional and international ‘best practices and success stories, the legal environment and the established practices in the country. Obviously, the 1st Draft met with ridicule and some serious and studied criticism although it did not deserve the latter.

Following that, in face of the studied criticism the Ministry went through a long tour of discarding the old Drafts and coming up with newer drafts. There was a lot of flip-flop in the content and objectives. e.g. in the name of coming up with an omnibus anti trafficking law the 3rd Draft actually provided for repealing the ITP Act entirely and thereby making the sex trade open and get the traffickers and sex traders decriminalized.

The Ministry’s repeated acts of throwing away the successive Drafts in the face of the scholarly criticism indicated that the Ministry’s intentions were good and it was genuinely in search of a good legislation. However its equally repeated act of coming up with a newer but thoroughly defective Drafts indicated that the Ministry was being taken for a ride by someone.

Only the 1st, the 3rd, and the 4th Drafts were available for the public including the civil society organizations. The 2nd Draft was circulated to a small group which got leaked and people commented on it. Subsequently, some insiders leaked the 10th Draft which too was utterly defective and confused.

The flip flop in the series of Drafts was evident. The content that remained stable through all the drafts was a provision to create and empower a number of uncalled for bureaucratic structures and Committees and the exclusion of and the punitive stance towards the civil society organizations which in fact have done whatever anti human trafficking work in the country that is worth the mention.

The Website of the Ministry continues to display the Immoral Traffic Prevention Act Amendment Bill 2005 (or 2006) which misleads the visitors. Is it a valid Bill to be presented? To the best of our understanding it is an irrelevant and dated item still hanging on the Ministry’s website. The website has no mention whatsoever of the abovementioned various Drafts of the proposed new law. We have not come across anyone who has seen the Drafts after the so called 10th Draft.

The proposed Draft (Draft no. 15?) was to be presented in the winter session of the Parliament in 2016 which did not happen. A little before the winter session concluded the Minister announced that the Bill would not be presented in the winter session but instead would get tabled in the Budget Session of the Parliament. The Budget session is on and the list of Bills to be considered in it is appended below which does not show that the Anti Trafficking Bill is being tabled now.

The problem of human trafficking is now witnessed even by a common man. It is no more the concern of the professionals engaged in the anti human trafficking work. There are many success stories and best practices which need to be incorporated in our law. Some advanced countries have come up with progressive and effective legislation that have met with a good degree of success (e.g. Sweden, USA). There is so much to learn from them. Making a few minor amendments in the existing laws against the different destination crimes of human trafficking is an urgent need of the hour. If the 2016 season dominated by a series of defective Drafts is over then it is time we focus at least on the urgently required minor amendments and provide the much needed protection to the vulnerable sections of our society against trafficking.

Dr. Pravin Patkar

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