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.
In the last few years, several states have enacted laws to curb cheating in examinations, especially those for recruitment in public service commissions. According to news reports, incidents of cheating and paper leaks have occurred on several occasions in Uttarakhand, including during the panchayat development officer exams in 2016, and the Uttarakhand Subordinate Services Selection Commission exams in 2021. The Uttarakhand Public Service Commission papers were also leaked in January 2023. The most recent cheating incidents led to protests and unrest in Uttarakhand. Following this, on February 11, 2023, the state promulgated an Ordinance to bar and penalise the use of unfair means in public examinations. The Uttarakhand Assembly passed the Bill replacing the Ordinance in March 2023. There have been multiple reports of candidates being arrested and debarred for cheating in public examinations for posts such as forest guard and secretariat guard after the ordinance’s introduction. Similar instances of cheating have also been noted in other states. As per news reports, since 2015, Gujarat has not been able to hold a single recruitment exam without reported paper leaks. In February 2023, the Gujarat Assembly also passed a law to penalise cheating in public examinations. Other states such as Rajasthan (Act passed in 2022), Uttar Pradesh (Act passed in 1998) and Andhra Pradesh (Act passed in 1997) also have similar laws. In this blog, we compare anti-cheating laws across some states (see Table 1), and discuss some issues to consider.
Typical provisions of anti-cheating laws
Anti-cheating laws across states generally contain provisions that penalise the use of unfair means by examinees and other groups in public examinations such as those conducted by state public sector commission examinations and higher secondary education boards. Broadly, unfair means is defined to include the use of unauthorised help and the unauthorised use of written material by candidates. These laws also prohibit individuals responsible for conducting examinations from disclosing any information they acquire in this role. The more recent laws, such as the Gujarat, Uttarakhand, and Rajasthan ones, also include the impersonation of candidates and the leaking of exam papers within the definition of unfair means. Uttarakhand, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Andhra Pradesh prohibit the use of electronic aids. Maximum prison sentences for using such unfair means range from three months in Uttar Pradesh, to seven years in Andhra Pradesh.
Issues to consider
The Gujarat and Uttarakhand anti-cheating Acts have relatively stringent provisions for cheating. The Uttarakhand Act has a fixed 3-year prison sentence for examinees caught cheating or using unfair means (for the first offence). Since the Act does not distinguish between the different types of unfair means used, an examinee could serve a sentence disproportionate to the offence committed. In most other states, the maximum imprisonment term for such offences is three years. Andhra Pradesh has a minimum imprisonment term of three years. However, all these states allow for a range with respect to the penalty, that is, the judge can decide on the imprisonment term (within the specified limits) depending on the manner of cheating and the implications of such cheating. Table 1 below compares the penalties for certain offences across eight states.
The Uttarakhand Act has a provision that debars the examinee from state competitive examinations for two to five years upon the filing of the chargesheet, rather than upon conviction. Thus, an examinee could be deprived of giving the examination even if they were innocent but being prosecuted under the law. This could compromise the presumption of innocence for accused candidates. The Gujarat and Rajasthan laws also debar candidates from sitting in specified examinations for two years, but only upon conviction.
These laws also vary in scope across states. In Uttarakhand and Rajasthan, the laws only apply to competitive examinations for recruitment in a state department (such as a Public Commission). In the other six states examined, these laws also apply to examinations held by educational institutions for granting educational qualifications such as diplomas and degrees. For example, in Gujarat, exams conducted by the Gujarat Secondary and Higher Secondary Education Board are also covered under the Gujarat Public Examination (Prevention of Unfair Means) Act, 2023. The question is whether it is appropriate to have similar punishments for exams in educational institutions and exams for recruitment in government jobs, given the difference in stakes between them.
Sources: The Rajasthan Public Examination (Measures for Prevention of Unfair Means in Recruitment) Act, 2022; the Uttar Pradesh Public Examinations (Prevention of Unfair Means) Act, 1998; the Chhattisgarh Public Examinations (Prevention of Unfair Means) Act, 2008; the Orissa Conduct of Examinations Act, 1988; the Andhra Pradesh Public Examinations (Prevention of Malpractices and Unfair means) Act, 1997; the Jharkhand Conduct of Examinations Act, 2001, the Uttarakhand Competitive Examination (Measures for Prevention and Prevention of Unfair Means in Recruitment) Act, 2023, the Gujarat Public Examination (Prevention of Unfair Methods) Act, 2023; PRS.