The Bombay High Court recently released two women rescued from an alleged prostitution racket, pointing out that they cannot be kept in custody for more than three weeks, in the absence of an order of rehabilitation passed by a Magistrate within 21 days.
Justice Mridula Bhatkar passed the order in view of the second proviso to Section 17(3) of the The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956 (PITA). Section 17 provides for intermediate custody of people removed or rescued under the Act and Section 17(3) allows the Magistrate to pass orders for the safe custody of such person. However, the second proviso to Section 17(3) restricts such custody to a maximum period of three weeks.
The court had been approached by the women, who had prayed for their release from the Navjeevan Mahila Sanstha Deonar, Mumbai. They were rescued from a building in Grant Road, Mumbai, consequent to a police raid. They were then sent to the rehabilitation centre, Deonar in August, 2018.
They had now submitted that they were in fact kept in the same rehabilitation centre since May, 2018, i.e. since the time of their production before the Magistrate. Thereafter, it was only in August last year that the designated judge under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act directed their detention for a period of one year at the Deonar rehabilitation centre. This was alleged to be in violation of the second proviso to Section 17(3) of PITA.
Agreeing with this contention, the court pointed out that an order for their rehabilitation should have been passed by the Magistrate within 21 days, but it wasn't. It noted, "In this case, on 24th May, 2018, the victims were produced before the learned Magistrate and they were initially kept in rehabilitation centre, however, the learned Sessions Judge ought to have passed the order of rehabilitation on or before 14th June, 2018. However, the order is not passed."
In view of the stipulation, the court ruled, "In view of this, the order passed by the learned Designated Judge under Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, Greater Bombay of detention of the petitioners for a period of one year at the rehabilitation centre is hereby set aside."
The petitioners were, therefore, directed to be released on the condition that they shall furnish their correct addresses and whereabouts to the Sessions Court and Investigating officer.