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.
On June 13, 2022, the West Bengal government passed a Bill to replace the Governor with the Chief Minister, as the Chancellor of 31 state public universities (such as Calcutta University, Jadavpur University). As per the All India Survey on Higher Education (2019-20), state public universities provide higher education to almost 85% of all students enrolled in higher education in India. In this blog, we discuss the role of the Governor in state public universities.
What is the role of the Chancellor in public universities?
State public universities are established through laws passed by state legislatures. In most laws the Governor has been designated as the Chancellor of these universities. The Chancellor functions as the head of public universities, and appoints the Vice-Chancellor of the university. Further, the Chancellor can declare invalid, any university proceeding which is not as per existing laws. In some states (such as Bihar, Gujarat, and Jharkhand), the Chancellor has the power to conduct inspections in the university. The Chancellor also presides over the convocation of the university, and confirms proposals for conferring honorary degrees. This is different in Telangana, where the Chancellor is appointed by the state government.
The Chancellor presides over the meetings of various university bodies (such as the Court/Senate of the university). The Court/Senate decides on matters of general policy related to the development of the university, such as: (i) establishing new university departments, (ii) conferring and withdrawing degrees and titles, and (iii) instituting fellowships.
The West Bengal University Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2022 designates the Chief Minister of West Bengal as the Chancellor of the 31 public universities in the state. Further, the Chief Minister (instead of the Governor) will be the head of these universities, and preside over the meetings of university bodies (such as Court/Senate).
Does the Governor have discretion in his capacity as Chancellor?
In 1997, the Supreme Court held that the Governor was not bound by the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers, while discharging duties of a separate statutory office (such as the Chancellor).
The Sarkaria and Puunchi Commission also dealt with the role of the Governor in educational institutions. Both Commissions concurred that while discharging statutory functions, the Governor is not legally bound by the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers. However, it may be advantageous for the Governor to consult the concerned Minister. The Sarkaria Commission recommended that state legislatures should avoid conferring statutory powers on the Governor, which were not envisaged by the Constitution. The Puunchi Commission observed that the role of Governor as the Chancellor may expose the office to controversies or public criticism. Hence, the role of the Governor should be restricted to constitutional provisions only. The Statement of Objects and Reasons of the West Bengal University Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2022 also mentions this recommendation given by the Puunchi Commission.
Recently, some states have taken steps to reduce the oversight of the Governor in state public universities. In April 2022, the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly passed two Bills, to transfer the power of appointing the Vice-Chancellor (in public universities) from the Governor, to the state government. As of June 8, 2022, these Bills have not received the Governor’s assent.
In 2021, Maharashtra amended the process to appoint the Vice Chancellor of state public universities. Prior to the amendment, a Search Committee forwarded a panel of at least five names to the Chancellor (who is the Governor). The Chancellor could then appoint one of the persons from the suggested panel as Vice-Chancellor, or ask for a fresh panel of names to be recommended. The 2021 amendment mandated the Search Committee to first forward the panel of names to the state government, which would recommend a panel of two names (from the original panel) to the Chancellor. The Chancellor must appoint one of the two names from the panel as Vice-Chancellor within thirty days. As per the amendment, the Chancellor has no option of asking for a fresh panel of names to be recommended.