Nandurbar Sex Trafficking Case: SIT Formed; Only Bombay HC Can Conisder Bail Applications Of Accused:SC [Read Order]

Nandurbar Sex Trafficking Case: SIT Formed; Only Bombay HC Can Conisder Bail Applications Of Accused:SC [Read Order]

The Supreme Court was informed on Tuesday that a Special Investigating Team (SIT) has been constituted for a thorough probe into the Nandurbar sex trafficking case.

The Bench comprising Justice J. Chelameswar and Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul was informed of the formation of the SIT by Director General of Police (DGP), Maharashtra, Mr. Satish C. Mathur. He also nominated the Inspector General (Prevention of Atrocities Against Women and Children) for heading the SIT, which is currently being steered by an Additional Superintendent of Police, Nandurbar.

Besides, the Court directed that the accused arrested in connection with the case should only approach the Bombay High Court for obtaining bail, observing,

"Having regard to the fact that the case has inter-state dimensions, applications are likely to be placed in different Courts in different parts of the country. It would be difficult to effectively handle the problem. Therefore, we deem it appropriate that any application either for anticipatory bail or regular bail should be moved only before the High Court of Bombay and no other court should entertain any proceeding in connection with the above-mentioned crime."

The Court, therefore, directed the Acting Chief Justice of Bombay High Court to designate a Bench for considering such applications exclusively.

It was also assured by Additional Solicitor General Mr. Tushar Mehta that the State of Maharashtra would identify an Officer exclusively for dealing with all the cases connected with the incident. The Petitioner NGO, Rescue Foundation has been allowed to assist the State in dealing with the case or any applications arising out of it.

The matter has now been listed on 3 May.

The story so far

In January last year, on receiving a tip from the Petitioner NGO, the police had conducted a raid at a brothel in Shahada, Nandurbar, pursuant to which seven girls, including five minors, were retrieved. The minor girls were sent to the Child Welfare Committee (CWC), Nandurbar, on orders of the Judicial Magistrate First Class.

Thereafter, 61 women were arrested from the same area for obscene behavior and activities in a public place and were convicted under Section 110 read with Section 117 of the Maharashtra Police Act. However, they were later treated as victims and were sent to protection homes. Out of these 61 women, 18 were found to be minors on medical examination.

The Magistrate had then issued orders to the CWC as well as the protection homes to release the minors to people claiming to be their parents or guardians. The Bombay High Court, however, set aside the order of the Magistrate on 24 August, opining that the proceedings by the Magistrate were in breach of the provisions of the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act of 1956 and the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act of 2015.

The High Court relied on Section 17 of the 1956 Act, which mandates that while issuing orders, the Magistrate shall ensure that no person should be restored to or placed in custody of a person who may exercise harmful influence on them. It had further opined that the Magistrate had overstepped the mandate of Section 9 of the 2015 Act and the jurisdiction of the Juvenile Justice Board as he had proceeded to order release of the minors, without verifying the authenticity of the applications made by those claiming to be their guardians.

The High Court had further ruled that it was only the CWC that had the authority to deal with the minor girls, who were "children in need of care and protection" as defined under the 2015 Act. It had, therefore, directed the girls to be produced before the CWC, which was directed to "take decisions regarding their safe custody as well as delivery of their custody to the parents – guardians."

Thereafter, the Supreme Court, in September last year, noted that the CWC had hurriedly handed over the custody of the minor girls to their so-called parents or guardians, and had noted that the Petitioner NGO had a reasonable apprehension that these so-called parents were, in fact, the ones responsible for trafficking and selling the minor girls to unknown people.

It had then, in December 2017, directed that the minor girls be placed in the custody of the Petitioner NGO, pending final enquiry into the arrangements for their custody. In doing so, the Court had taken note of the fact that the NGO has been doing some good work and has been taking care of the children in need of protection and care.

The DGP was soon after summoned by the Court last month after being irked at the cluelessness of the officers present in Court when asked about their investigation into the incident.

Read the Order Here