The Calcutta High Court recently laid down guidelines for investigation and trial of offences under the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956. These guidelines, it asserted, need to be followed as the “standard operating procedure in the investigation and prosecution of crime involving commercial sexual exploitation of women and children.”
The Bench comprising Justice Ravi Kishan Kapur and Justice Joymalya Bagchi was hearing an application filed by the State for cancellation of bail granted to one Sangita Sahu, who had been accused of running an organised sex racket in her hotel. She had been granted anticipatory bail considering her critical health and her submission that she was unaware of the activities being undertaken in her hotel.
The Court, however, rapped the lower court Judge for the casual manner in which anticipatory bail was granted to the accused, especially in view of the gravity of allegations against her. Noting that no reference was made by the Judge to the evidence against her, it observed, “We are pained by the laconic and casual manner in which the learned Judge chose to allow an application for pre-arrest bail and that too in a case where the allegations relate to commercial sexual exploitation of underage girls by an organised crime racket. Undeniably, the opposite party-accused is the owner of the premises where such immoral activities were being carried on.”
It then noted that several victims had graphically described the prominent role played by Ms. Sahu in sexually exploiting them for gains, but lamented the delayed recording of statement of witnesses due to the laxity in investigation by the initial Investigating Agency. It further noted with concern the fact that the statements of the victims were not recorded before the Magistrate under Section 164 of the Cr.P.C., and went on to highlight the need for support and rehabilitation of such victims on both, social and economic counts.
The Court in fact opined that the proceedings under the Act are being carried out carelessly, and observed, “Although the menace of trafficking of women and minors have assumed alarming proportions, we note with grave concern the lackadaisical manner in which offences involving commercial sexual exploitation of women and children like the present one are investigated, prosecuted and/or pursued…
…investigation in such offences requires to be done by sensitized and specialized agencies and adequate witnesses protection programmes, as well as restitutive and rehabilitative measures, require to be extended to the victims immediately upon their recovery, pending prosecution and even thereafter.”
It, thereafter, set aside the order granting anticipatory bail to Ms. Sahu, and laid down the following guidelines:
“(a) any First Information Report (for short F.I.R.) registered under the I.T.(P) Act or under sections 370/372/373 of I.P.C. or under the provisions of the POCSO Act involving commercial sexual exploitation of women or children should be investigated by a specialised agency like Anti-Human Trafficking Unit;
(b) Such F.I.R.s registered with the local police station must, within 24 hours thereof, be transferred to the specialised agencies for further investigation;
(c) In order to facilitate the investigation in these cases, State Government is directed to set up Anti-Human Trafficking Units in every district which shall be manned by specially trained police personnel not below the rank of Inspector who would be preferably women. These officers shall be notified as special police officers under section 13 of the I.T.(P) Act.
(d) statements of victims who are recovered in the course of raid or thereafter must be mandatorily recorded under Section 164 of the Code of Criminal Procedure;
(e) victims must be extended medical assistance which shall include psychological counselling in terms of section 357B of Cr.P.C. at appropriate specialised medical institutions of the State;
(f) upon the recording of their statements under Section 164 of the Code of Criminal Procedure necessary financial assistance by way of interim compensation and/or other rehabilitation measures provided under the Victim Compensation Scheme formulated by the State of West Bengal under Section 357A must forthwith be extended to the victims. In the event, the victims are minors they must be forwarded before the Child Welfare Committee for care, custody, rehabilitation, etc.
(g) Jurisdictional Magistrates/Special Courts to whom the cases are reported shall seek report from the Investigating Agency as well as from the Secretary, District Legal Services Authority with regard to providing of medical assistance, compensatory and/or other rehabilitation assistances to the victims of such crimes;
(h) wherever there is a threat perceptive to the victims and/or their families, they shall be extended police protection and other necessary protective measures by the trial court.
(i) prosecution of such cases shall be done with utmost promptitude and be concluded at an early date.
(j) during trial, learned Public Prosecutors shall ensure the recording of depositions of the victims at the earliest without unnecessary delay preferably within a month from the date of commencement of trial so that any chance of winning over or intimidation of the victims may be minimal.”
Read the Order Here