The Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill, 2018 is listed for passage in Rajya Sabha today. Earlier this year, the Bill was introduced and passed in Lok Sabha. It provides for the prevention, rescue, and rehabilitation of trafficked persons. If the Bill is not passed today, it will lapse with the dissolution of the 16th Lok Sabha. In this post, we analyse the Bill in its current form.
What was the need for a new law?
According to the National Crime Records Bureau, 8,132 human trafficking cases were reported in India in 2016 under the Indian Penal Code, 1860.[i] In the same year, 23,117 trafficking victims were rescued. Of these, the highest number of persons were trafficked for forced labour (45.5%), followed by prostitution (21.5%). Table 1 provides details of persons trafficked for various purposes (as of 2016).
Table 1: Victims rescued by type of purpose of trafficking
|Purpose||2016||(as a %)|
|Other forms of sexual exploitation||2,590||11.5|
|Removal of organs||2||0|
Source: Human Trafficking, Crime in India, 2016, National Crime Records Bureau; PRS
In India, the offence of trafficking is dealt with under different laws. Trafficking is primarily an offence under the Indian Penal Code, 1860. It defines trafficking to include recruiting, transporting, or harboring persons by force or other means, for exploitation. In addition, there are a range of laws presently which deal with bonded labour, exploitation of children, and commercial sexual exploitation. Each of these laws operate independently, have their own enforcement machinery and prescribe penalties for offences related to trafficking.
In 2015, pursuant to a Supreme Court order, the Ministry of Women and Child Development constituted a Committee to identify gaps in the current legislation on trafficking and to examine the feasibility of a comprehensive legislation on trafficking.[ii] Consequently, the Trafficking Bill was introduced in Lok Sabha by the Minister of Women and Child Development, Ms. Maneka Gandhi in July, 2018.
The Bill provides for the investigation of trafficking cases, and rescue and rehabilitation of trafficked victims. It includes trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation, slavery, or forced removal of organs. In addition, the law also considers trafficking for certain purposes, such as for begging or for inducing early sexual maturity, to be an aggravated form of trafficking. These forms of trafficking attract a higher punishment.
In order to punish trafficking, the Bill provides for the setting up of investigation and rehabilitation authorities at the district, state and national level. The primary investigation responsibility lies with anti-trafficking police officers and anti-trafficking units constituted at the district level. The authority at the national level can take over investigation of cases referred to it by two or more states.
The Bill also provides for the setting up of Protection Homes and Rehabilitation Homes to provide care and rehabilitation to the victims. The Bill supplements the rehabilitation efforts through a Rehabilitation Fund, which will be used to set up the Protection and Rehabilitation Homes. Special Courts will be designated in every district to complete trial of trafficking cases within a year.
Additionally, the Bill specifies penalties for various offences including for promotion of trafficking and trafficking with the aid of media. All offences are cognizable (i.e. police officer can arrest without a warrant) and non-bailable. If a person is found guilty under the Bill and also under any other law, the punishment which is higher will apply to the offender.
The current Bill does not replace but adds to the existing legal framework. As discussed above, currently a range of laws deal with various aspects of trafficking. For instance, the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1986 covers trafficking for commercial sexual exploitation while the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976 deals with punishment for employment of bonded labour. These laws specify their own procedures for enforcement and rehabilitation.
One of the challenges with the Bill is that these laws will continue to be in force after the Bill. Since each of these laws have different procedures, it is unclear as to which procedure will apply in certain cases of trafficking. This may result in overlap in implementation of these laws. For instance, under the ITPA, 1986, Protective Homes provide for rehabilitation of victims of sexual exploitation. The Bill also provides for setting up of Protection Homes. When a victim of sexual exploitation is rescued, it is not clear as to which of these Homes she will be sent to. Further, each of these laws designate special courts to hear offences. The question arises as to which of these courts will hear the case.
Are the offences in the Bill reasonably tailored?
As discussed earlier, the Bill imposes penalties for various offences connected with trafficking. One of the offences states that if trafficking is committed on a premise, it will be presumed that the owner of the premise had knowledge of the offence. The implication of this would be that if an owner lives in a different city, say Delhi, and lets out his house in Mumbai to another person, and this person is discovered to be detaining girls for sexual exploitation on the premise, it will be presumed that the owner knew about the commission of the offence. In such circumstances, he will have to prove that he did not know about the offence being committed on his premise. This provision is a departure from the standard principle in criminal law where the guilt of the accused has to be proved and not presumed.
There are other laws where the owner of a property is presumed guilty. However, the prosecution is required to prove certain facts before presuming his guilt. For instance, under the Narcotics and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985 it is presumed that the owner has knowledge of an offence committed on his property. However, the Bill clarifies that the presumption will only apply if the prosecution can prove that the accused was connected with the circumstances of the case. For instance, an owner of a truck is not presumed to be guilty only because his truck was used for transporting drugs.[iii] However, he may be considered guilty if he was also driving the truck in which drugs were transported.[iv] The Bill does not contain such safeguards and this provision may therefore violate Article 21 of the Constitution which requires that laws which deprive a person of his life or personal liberty should be fair and reasonable.[v]
Does the Bill provide any protection to trafficking victims compelled to commit crimes?
The Bill provides immunity to a victim who commits an offence punishable with death, life imprisonment or imprisonment for 10 years. Immunity to victims is desirable to ensure that they are not prosecuted for committing crimes which are a direct consequence of them being trafficked.[vi] However, the Bill provides immunity only for serious crimes. For instance, a trafficked victim who commits murder under coercion of his traffickers may be able to claim immunity from being tried for murder. However, if a trafficked victim commits petty theft (e.g. pickpocketing) under coercion of his traffickers, he will not be able to claim immunity.
Further, the immunity is only available when the victim can show that the offence was committed under coercion, threat, intimidation or undue influence, and there was a reasonable apprehension of death or injury. Therefore, it may be argued that the threshold to claim immunity from prosecution may be too high and may defeat the purpose for providing such immunity.
[i]. ‘Crime in India’ 2016, National Crime Records Bureau.
[ii]. Prajwala vs. Union of India 2016 (1) SCALE 298.
[iii]. Bhola Singh vs. State of Punjab (2011) 11 SCC 653.
[iv]. Sushant Gupta vs. Union of India 2014 (308) ELT 661 (All.).
[v] Maneka Gandhi vs. Union of India 1978 AIR 597.
[vi]. Guideline 7, ‘Recommended Principles and Guidelines on Human Rights and Human Trafficking’, OHCHR, https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Publications/Traffickingen.pdf.
The Uttarakhand Assembly concluded a two-day session on November 30, 2022. The session was scheduled to be held over five days. In this post we look at the legislative business that was carried out in the Assembly, and the state of state legislatures.
13 Bills were introduced and passed within two days
As per the Session Agenda, a total of 19 Bills were listed for introduction in the span of two days. 13 of these were listed to be discussed and passed on the second day. These included the Uttarakhand Protection of Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Bill, 2022, University of Petroleum and Energy Studies (Amendment), Bill, 2022, and the Uttarakhand Anti-Littering and Anti-Spitting (Amendment) Bill, 2022.
The Assembly had proposed to discuss and pass each Bill (barring two) within five minutes (see Figure 1). Two Bills were allocated 20 minutes each for discussion and passing - the Haridwar Universities Bill, 2022, and the Public Service (Horizontal Reservation for Women) Bill, 2022. As per news reports, the Assembly passed all 13 Bills within these two days (this excludes the Appropriation Bills). This raises the question on the amount of scrutiny that these Bills were subject to, and the quality of such laws when the legislature intends to pass them within mere minutes.
Figure 1: Excerpt of Uttarakhand Assembly's November 2022 Session Agenda
Law making requires deliberation, scrutiny
Our law-making institutions have several tools at their disposal to ensure that before a law is passed, it has been examined thoroughly on various aspects such as constitutionality, clarity, financial and technical capacity of the state to implement provisions, among others. The Ministry/Department piloting a Bill could share a draft of the Bill for public feedback (pre-legislative scrutiny). While Bills get introduced, members may raise issues on constitutionality of the proposed law. Once introduced, Bills could be sent to legislative committees for greater scrutiny. This allows legislators to deliberate upon individual provisions in depth, understand if there may be constitutional challenges or other issues with any provision. This also allows experts and affected stakeholders to weigh in on the provisions, highlight issues, and help strengthen the law.
However, when Bills are introduced and passed within mere minutes, it barely gives legislators the time to go through the provisions and mull over implications, issues, or ways to improve the law for affected parties. It also raises the question of what the intention of the legislature is when passing laws in a hurry without any discussion. Often, such poorly thought laws are also challenged in Courts.
For instance, the Uttarakhand Assembly passed the Uttarakhand Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Bill, 2022 in this session (five minutes had been allocated for the discussion and passing of the Bill). The 2022 Bill amends the 2018 Act which prohibits forceful religious conversions, and provides that conversion through allurement or marriage will be unlawful. The Bill has provisions such as requiring an additional notice to be sent to the District Magistrate (DM) for a conversion, and that reconversion to one’s immediate previous religion will not be considered a conversion. Some of these provisions seem similar to other laws that were passed by states and have been struck down by or have been challenged in Courts. For example, the Madhya Pradesh High Court while examining the Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 2021 noted that providing a notice to the DM for a conversion of religion violates the right to privacy as the right includes the right to remain silent. It extends that understanding to the right to decide on one’s faith. The Himachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 2006 exempted people who reconvert to their original religion from giving a public notice of such conversion. The Himachal Pradesh High Court had struck down this provision as discriminatory and violative of the right to equality. The Court also noted that the right to change one’s belief cannot be taken away for maintaining public order.
Uttarakhand MLAs may not have had an opportunity to think about how issues flagged by Courts may be addressed in a law that regulates religious conversions.
Most other state Assemblies also pass Bills without adequate scrutiny
In 2021 44% states passed Bills on the day it was introduced or on the next day. Between January 2018 and September 2022, the Gujarat Assembly introduced 92 Bills (excluding Appropriation Bills). 91 of these were passed in the same day as their introduction. In the 2022 Monsoon Session, the Goa Assembly passed 28 Bills in the span of two days. This is in addition to discussion and voting on budgetary allocation to various government departments.
Figure 2: Time taken by state legislatures to pass Bills in 2021
Note: The chart above does not include Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim. A Bill is considered passed within a day if it was passed on the day of introduction or on the next day. For states with bicameral legislatures, bills have to be passed in both Houses. This has been taken into account in the above chart for five states having Legislative Councils, except Bihar (information was not available for Council).
Sources: Assembly websites, E-Gazette of various states and Right to Information requests; PRS.
Occasionally, the time actually spent deliberating upon a Bill is lesser than the allocated time. This may be due to disruptions in the House. The Himachal Pradesh Assembly provides data on the time actually spent discussing Bills. For example, in the August 2022 Session, it spent an average of 12 minutes to discuss and pass 10 Bills. However, the Uttarakhand Assembly allocated only five minutes to discuss each Bill in its November 2022 Session. This indicates the lack of intent of certain state legislatures to improve their functioning.
In the case of Parliament, a significant portion of scrutiny is also carried out by the Department Related Standing Committees, even when Parliament is not in session. In the 14th Lok Sabha (LS), 60% of the Bills introduced were sent to Committees for detailed examination, and in the 15th LS, 71% were sent. These figures have reduced recently – in the 16th LS 27% of the Bills were sent to Committees, and so far in the 17th LS, 13% have been sent. However, across states, sending Bills to Committees for detailed examination is often the exception than the norm. In 2021, less than 10% of the Bills were sent to Committees. None of the Bills passed by the Uttarakhand Assembly had been examined by a committee. States that are an exception here include Kerala which has 14 subject Committees, and Bills are regularly sent to these for examination. However, these Committees are headed by their respective Ministers, which reduces the scope of independent scrutiny that may be undertaken.