For BJP in Gujarat, challenge is not from the Opposition

1514012517-DSC_5084The BJP in Gujarat is witnessing something which was unheard of during the 13-year rule of its former chief minister Narendra Modi. Despite the narrow victory margins and reduced seats from 115 in 2012 to 99 in 2017, the top brass of the state BJP was convinced that the party has sailed through the political storm and now they can start building up from where they had left out.

However, the saffron party leaders, including Prime Minister Modi and BJP president Amit Shah, seemed to have discounted the unrest that was brewing within the party cadre during the elections. This has come to the foreground with several senior leaders from different communities not directly voicing their demands, but using their supporters to make senior leaders realise that all are not happy with the party’s functioning under chief minister Vijay Rupani. They all are demanding shares for the castes and communities that have stood by the party during troubled times.

Ever since the swearing-in ceremony last month, Rupani has been in a fire fighting mode. First, it was his deputy and Patidar leader Nitin Patel who expressed his displeasure over the allocation of portfolios. As soon as Nitin Patel’s issue was resolved, five-term MLA from Bhavnagar Rural seat Purshottam Solanki came out in the open expressing displeasure over portfolio allocation. He even skipped the first cabinet meeting.

Nitin Patel did not mince any words to show his disappointment with the allocation of portfolios. He has been heading the urban development and finance ministry since 2012. In the Anandiben Patel government too he was head of the same ministries. But in the second term of Rupani he was stripped of these two important ministries. “My fight is for prestige and not the post. My respect and honour should be restored in the party. I have voiced my grievance before the high command and have faith they will take the right decision,” Nitin had said.

Nitin’s rebellion became a rallying point for Patidars as BJP leaders from the community as well as Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) leader Hardik Patel came out in his support. Some Patidar leaders from the Congress also invited Nitin to join the party. Even Hardik issued a statement asking the deputy CM to join the Congress with 10 other MLAs to restore Patidar honour.

However, to placate a sulking Nitin Patel it required intervention of top BJP leaders like Amit Shah and even some assurance from the PMO in New Delhi. In case of Purshottam Solanki, a prominent Koli leader (mostly fishing community), who was unhappy over the allocation of portfolios in the new BJP government in Gujarat, it was his supporters who seemed more angry or disappointed. Demanding that “good” departments be allocated to their leader, Solanki’s supporters, led by his brother and former BJP MLA Hira Solanki, had gathered at the minister’s residence in Gandhinagar last week. But after Rupani’s assurance, Solanki’s supporters called off their protest. “Rupani has assured that I will be given a better department when the next cabinet expansion takes place after one-and-a-half months,” Solanki had told reporters in Gandhinagar after meeting the chief minister.

But before Rupani could convince Solanki, supporters of another five-term MLA from Shehra seat in Panchmahals, Jetha Bharwad, demanded a cabinet berth for Bharwad. However, Bharwad, who represents a predominantly tribal population, has made it clear that everything happened without his knowledge. “There is no threat for the party from my side after my supporters’ agitation,” he said. Bharwad also claimed that he was a committed soldier of the BJP and was happy where he was.

The story doesn’t end here. A very junior BJP MLA, Jhankhana Patel from Choriyasi seat in Surat, too was reportedly demanding a place in the Rupani government. Though Jhankhana, a Koli Patel, categorically denied that she had demanded a ministerial berth, her supporters and senior BJP leaders from Surat feel that the Diamond City had not got enough representation in the state cabinet despite the fact that BJP has been winning all the 12 seats of Surat city since the last three elections.

Senior BJP leaders in Surat said that they expected at least three ministers, including one woman, from Surat as two women candidates of the ruling party had won from the Diamond City. “It is not fair that the state BJP ignores Surat’s right to proper representation,” a senior BJP leader from Surat said.

On the other hand, the turncoats from Congress who had joined BJP before the assembly polls as well as several other MLAs and ministers from different communities are demanding larger shares in the new government. Though other ministers have not expressed dissatisfaction publicly as Nitin Patel and Solanki did, the murmur of ire is beginning to build up. Several senior MLAs who were ministers or held key posts now want those powers back.

Moreover, senior MLAs who have served between three and five terms as MLAs but were never made ministers are also pitching for positions of significance. “Those who have made no contribution to the party, and whose career in the party is shorter than my career as an MLA, have been made cabinet ministers,” lamented a senior BJP leader.

Last week, a group of former Congress leaders such as C K Raulji, Ramsinh Parmar, Vipul Chaudhary, and others who have joined the BJP met Rupani and Nitin Patel and demanded a place in the new government. Raulji said, “I have asked for fair representation, but I will accept whatever the party decides.” Former Congress leaders who contested on BJP tickets and lost in the 2017 assembly elections are pressing for positions such as parliamentary secretaries. Several BJP leaders appointed by the previous Rupani government to various boards, corporations, and government agencies want their terms renewed. Many senior BJP leaders who got nothing over the past several years are pushing for roles in such boards and corporations.

Sources close to Rupani say that the CM is in consultation with top BJP leaders including PM Modi over the growing unrest within the party. It will not be a surprise if Rupani expands his cabinet in the next couple of months.

The Congress too was facing the community and caste hurdle while closing in on Congress legislative party leader (CLP) and Leader of Opposition in the state assembly. The Congress high command chose Amreli MLA Paresh Dhanani, who belongs to the Patidar community, as their CLP. He is also considered to be close to Congress president Rahul Gandhi. Dhanani has also been credited for Congress winning all the five seats in Amreli district.

Other Congress leaders who were in the race for CLP included Koli community strongman Kunwarji Bavaliya and tribal leader Mohansinh Rathwa. However, the party chose Dhanani, who has been quite vocal in the Assembly and also represents the Patidars who have been agitating for quota under the OBC category.

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2G scam: Can multi-crore ‘notional’ loss be reclaimed?

IMG_8502It was difficult to count the zeroes in a newspaper headline in 2011 when the Comptroller and Auditor General’s report placed in Parliament put the national figure of 1,76,000 lakh crore loss in the allocation of second generation spectrum. The 2G scam, as the deal was subsequently called, became a by-word for corruption along with the other scams associated with CWG games and mining leases.

These together led to the taint on the UPA Government headed by Dr Manmohan Singh and contributed to the victory of NDA under the leadership of Narendra Modi in 2014. The CBI Special Court judgment, acquitting all those charged with corruption in the allocation of 2G, may have given reasons for former UPA partners to rejoice but the judgment has left several important questions unanswered and the issue remains far from closed for good.

If anything, the trial court has pointed out gaping holes in the prosecution case and severely indicted the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) for its shoddy investigation and collection of evidence. The premier investigation agency of the country not only refrained from linking corruption with the deals, it filed a “well-choreographed chargesheet” only making it a case of high profile corruption.

Heads must roll for the poor investigation. Although the CBI does not have a great track record as far as convictions go, it should have been more thorough in this case. Even the Special CBI Judge O P Saini, who delivered the judgment, said he kept waiting for evidence and stressed that “high profile nature of a case cannot be used as a ground for holding people guilty without legal evidence”.

It is thus clear that even the judge was not convinced that there was no corruption or scam involved. He had no choice but to bank on evidence to prosecute the guilty but, unfortunately, he was not presented any proof. There are a host of questions which remain unanswered.

One of the most glaring linkages, which the CBI failed to investigate, was the payment of 200 crore by one of the companies which had succeeded in getting contract to DMK run Kalaignar TV station. While the then Union telecom minister A Raja and others, including DMK chief Karunanidhi’s daughter Kanimozhi, produced several witnesses to claim that the payment was a “genuine deal”, the CBI made no efforts to establish a link between allocation of spectrum and money paid to the TV company.

Among the other obvious irregularities were the arbitrary method of allocation of spectrum. While for some major companies the rule of first-come-first-served was imposed, for others it was waived off. The last dates for receiving applications were arbitrarily changed which led to undue benefits to some companies. The CAG pointed out that of the 122 licenses issued, about 85 did not qualify even by the first-come-first-served policy. It also found that several companies had manipulated their accounts and had back-dated entries to become eligible. It appeared as if these companies were aware of the decisions likely to be taken for allocation of spectrum. Indeed, the judgment delivered by the trial court has left gaping holes.

The most damning comments on the allocation of 2G spectrum ironically had come in a Supreme Court judgement in 2012. A division bench of the apex court, comprising Justice G S Singhvi and Justice A K Ganguly, had categorically said that the material before the bench proved that former telecom minister A Raja “wanted to favour some companies at the cost of public exchequer” and that the allocation of spectrum was “wholly arbitrary, capricious and contrary to public interest, apart from violative of the doctrine of equality”.

While quashing the allocations, it concluded that the “manner in which the exercise of grant of letters of intent to the applicants was conducted on January 10, 2008, leaves no room for doubt that everything was stage-managed to favour those who were able to know in advance change in the implementation of the first-come-first-served principle”.

Besides the political fallout of the 2G scam and the taint that it left on the UPA government, the so-called exposure had also severely dented India’s image and hampered its growth story. It had led to cancellation of contracts which included foreign players like UAE’s Etisalat, Norway’s Telenor and Russia’s Sistema which had, in turn, led to huge loss of investors’ confidence. The perception of India as a country afflicted with high corruption had further dented its image.

The judgment has also opened doors to far reaching consequences for different institutions. Although the Supreme Court was dealing with the question of only allocation of spectrum and not the criminality involved, its decision to rely on the CAG report and not asking for an independent inquiry, including a judicial inquiry, was not correct. It now appears that it took on the role of Parliament where the CAG report was submitted and the general practise is to have parliamentary sub committees to first examine the reports. It cancelled all allotments without going into the merits and demerits of each case.

During the period when the CAG report was presented in Parliament, the functioning of the temple of democracy was virtually at a standstill. The dysfunctional Parliament had led to loss of credibility as well as promoted other institutions such as Supreme Court and CAG to go beyond their brief.

The CAG itself has suffered due its then chief Vinod Rai seeking attention by putting forward a highly exaggerated figure of 1,76,000 lakh crore as notional loss or what it called “presumptive loss”. To be fair, the figure the CAG has mentioned was a loss of 58,000 lakh crore to 1,76,000 lakh crore but the higher figure had caught the public imagination. The CAG had obviously given a flawed calculation to arrive at such a huge figure.

The Congress and its allies are evidently in a jubilant mood. Former prime minister Manmohan Singh has demanded an apology from the BJP for “defaming the Congress and misleading the nation”. He also described the former CAG Vinod Rai as a “lackey” of the BJP. Rai is now the chairman of the Banks Board Bureau with huge powers to appoint Managing Directors of Banks. He is also the chairman of the administrative committee of Board of Cricket Control of India. Congress has demanded that he be removed from all posts.

With the Special Judge holding Raja and 18 others not guilty, the Supreme Court’s action in quashing the allotments can now be challenged. The CBI is also bound to challenge the trial court verdict and would, hopefully, go better prepared with evidence to prove its charges. The fact that the prosecution failed to do enough homework or had proved to be a failure should not mean that the guilty could go unpunished. Some of the facts are too glaring and too telling to be ignored.

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Indian Army kills 7 Pakistani soldiers along LoC in 'retaliatory action'

Army DayThe Indian Army has killed seven Pakistani soldiers and injured 4 others in the forward areas along the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir’s (J&K) Poonch district on January 15.

The Army’s retaliatory action comes after an Indian soldier was killed in Pakistani firing in Jammu and Kashmir’s Rajouri district on January 13.

“If we are forced, then we may resort to other action by stepping up military offensive,” said Army Chief Bipin Rawat at an event of the 70th Army Day.

General Rawat further added that the Pakistan Army had been continuously trying to help terrorists sneak into LoC in J&K.

“We are using our might to teach them a lesson. We will keep effectively retaliating to any provocative action by Pakistan,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Pakistan Army said in a statement that four of its soldiers were killed along the LOC in the Jandrot, Kotli sector.

Gen Rawat asserted, “We will not let anti-India activities succeed at any cost. We will take even stronger steps against our enemies if we are compelled to do so”

Pakistan has been continuously violating ceasefire along the International Border and the LoC in J&K and more than 720 cases of ceasefire has been reported in last year in comparison to 449 times in 2016.

How Human Trafficking pervades Assam

On a summer night in 2017, when a family in Chhatarpur, New Delhi went to sleep after dinner, 14-year-old Mukti (name changed) discreetly slipped out of the house and ran. She was wearing worn out clothes and slippers, her hair was messy and she didn’t have a single rupee in her pocket. The dimly-lit street was empty and she fastened her pace as mixed feelings of fear of being caught and anxiety about her future ran down her spine.

As she reached the main road, drenched in sweat and tears, Mukti saw an autorickshaw and requested its driver to drop her to the New Delhi Railway Station from where she planned to catch a train back to her native place in Assam. The railway station was the only place familiar to her in the city because that is where she had ended up with her ‘agent’. Upon being dropped at the station, she caught a policeman’s attention who took her to a children’s home after she narrated to him her harrowing story.

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Missing kids from Kokrajhar Clockwise from top left, Bidangsri Boro (10), Forida Khatun (17), Sameli Besra (16), Parbin Sultana (15), Mohidul Hoque (13), Abdul Alami Sek (10), Abdul Hakim (14), Simon Lakra (15) —Source: NEDAN Foundation

In March 2017, Mukti was trafficked from Baksa district in Assam by a placement agent, a man from her neighbouring village. Early one morning when her mother left for work in a tea garden, the man, unknown to her, coaxed her to leave with him immediately saying her mother had given him permission to take her to Delhi for work as a domestic help. Upon reaching New Delhi Railway Station, she was handed over to two men named Rajiv and Arun who took her to their ‘office’.

There, she was confined to a small dark hall full of other trafficked girls. There was only one tiny window, too small to allow sufficient light or air inside. She felt helpless and trapped like the other young girls as none of them knew their fate. What was most shocking for Mukti was that during the night, the ‘agents’ would come to their room and force themselves on some girls.

When Mukti narrated her ordeal to Tehelka, it had been only two days since she had returned to her home state. She was residing at a children’s home run by the Assam Centre for Rural Development (ACRD).

“The agents were bad people. I was so scared to see how the agents would break into our room during the night and do bad things with some girls who were a little older than me. There were three more girls from different villages of Baksa, all tricked by such agents, just like me.”

She continued, “On the third day, late in the night, the agents took me to a Punjabi family in Chattarpur. Uncle and aunty used to beat me, hit me on my head, pull my hair and verbally abuse me. I would weep for hours. They would wake me up at 4 am to do the household chores, all by myself. They had a washing machine, despite that they would ask me to hand wash piles of clothes. They made me sweep and mop the entire big house. From 4 in the morning to dusk, I was constantly forced to work.”

Mukti also said that her ‘employers’ would give her just tea and two biscuits in the morning, lunch at 3 pm that included two chapatis and some sabji, and a small meal at night, though often there was no dinner for her.

After finally finding a safe place to live, Mukti wants to join school and continue playing her favourite sport, football, as early as possible. Back in her village before the incident happened, she and her friends would practice football everyday guided by a coach for free. Now, Mukti will be receiving education and rehabilitation at the children’s home run by ACRD till she desires. She hopes for a better future for her two younger sisters as well.

Trafficking scenario in Assam

Trafficking is flourishing in the rural and remote heartlands of Assam on an unprecedented scale. Minor children, especially girls, are targeted by traffickers and taken to metro cities to be engaged as domestic helps or in prostitution.

As per the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) annual report titled ‘Crime in India, 2015’, 1,494 cases of trafficking were reported from Assam in 2015, the highest in the country. This number took a sharp dip in 2016, falling as low as 91 in terms of cases reported. However, activist groups engaged in this area argue that the drop might not reflect the ground reality.

“The numbers show only cases that have been reported. But, as seen in many instances, most of the cases go unreported either due to ignorance or threats faced by parents and guardians,” said an activist who did not want to be named. Further, Tehelka’s investigation revealed some shocking details about a laissez-faire situation for criminals involved in human trafficking in the state.

Due to lack of education and awareness, parents readily give away their children when traffickers pretend to offer free education or lucrative jobs

No missing complaints

Perhaps the biggest advantage that traffickers have is that most cases go unreported. For instance, two minor girls — Bandani Nag and Bilu — went simultaneously missing from their village Dekadong in the state’s Baksa district in 2017. While it was later ascertained that an agent name Dasharat, a resident of Dekadong village itself, was responsible for trafficking both of them to Delhi, no action could be taken against them as the families of the missing children never filed a case against the accused.

When asked by this correspondent why they did not report the matter to the police, a confused and ignorant Birsa, brother-in-law of Bandani Nag, said, “Didi, police complaint? Nobody told us that we should complain to the police. We people do not have a single clue about whom to contact or complain when such a situation arises.”

It is indeed shocking that in Baksa hundreds of such trafficking cases go unreported and, hence, unsolved. In Doomni, a tea estate in the district, one in every two houses has a case of missing children or trafficking that is mostly unreported. This basically stems from the fact that most parents are not even aware that a complaint could be made to the authorities in the first place. In fact, trafficking in Baksa has increased two-fold over the years because almost 90 per cent parents do not file a police complaint, thus no First Information Report (FIR) can be initiated, when somebody goes missing.

Tehelka inquired with Officer-in-Charge (OC) Pabitra Kalita, Mushalpur Police Station, about why such a large number of people fail to report or file a complaint at the time of the incident, to which he replied, “Locals are reluctant to file a report, first, fearing a complaint to police will incur them a fee, and second, lack of evidence to prove a matter.”

“In most of the cases, we (police) press the families to file a report or at least acknowledge the offender; failing to do so makes the case frail to investigate further. We have been doing timely campaigns and mass-awareness programmes on human trafficking with support from CWC (State Child Welfare Committee), NGOs and student unions,” Kalita added.

Among the four tea gardens in Baksa district, namely Doomni Tea Estate (TE), Nagrijuli TE, Menaka TE, and Fatemabad TE, trafficking is at its peak in Doomni, which has a predominant population of tea labourers. Awareness among them about filing a missing complaint to police, or reporting to the administration, to Gaon Bura (Village head) or NGOs is almost nil.

As told by Kalita, there have been some campaigns, drives and mass-awareness programmes by the local authorities, student union groups beside NGOs, and the Child Welfare Committee (CWC). However, such initiatives have failed to sensitise the locals about the gravity of the matter.

Ethnic riots in the state in 2008 and 2012 resulted in the upsurge of trafficking to double. Riots make it easier for traffickers to exploit the oppressed population and smuggle children effortlessly from camps

Baksa is an administrative district under the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) in North-Western part of Assam. On February 10, 2003, the BTC accord was signed to form BTAD (Bodoland Territorial Autonomous District) with four districts — Kokrajhar, Chirang, Baksa and Udalguri. The sex ratio in Baksa is 974 females against 1,000 males. In general, Baksa is predominantly inhabited by Bodos followed by Kachari, Assamese, Adhibasi (Adivasi), Sarania-Kachari, Koch-Rajbonshi, Bengali and other religious minorities, as per government data.

Remote villages are haven for traffickers

Around five hours’ drive from Baksa is Kokrajhar district, which is the sixth-worst trafficking zone in Assam. On an average, one child goes missing or is trafficked from Kokrajhar everyday, according to NGO North East Research and Social Work

Networking (NERSWN) that works towards the education and betterment of underprivileged children in the area.
According to NERSWN, over 300 forest and border villages in Kokrajhar are susceptible to serious child trafficking as the government is fearful of entering these deep pockets. The main targets are children from the Santhali, Adhibasi and Bodo communities. Most of these children are trafficked to Delhi due to the high demand for domestic helpers and sex workers, and also to Haryana, Kerala, Gujarat, Mumbai, Punjab as well as several other parts of North and South India. Here again, the number of parents filing missing complaints with the police is miserably low.

Porous gateways to neighbouring Bhutan, Siliguri, Cooch Bihar and West Bengal help traffickers with easy escapes for smuggling of young boys and girls and makes Kokrajhar a haven for cross-border trafficking. Not only this, traffickers target soft spots like Deosri, Dadgiri and other untouched villages in Chirang district.

Human trafficking has been rampant in Kokrajhar. However, the ethnic riots of 2008 between Bodos and Adivasis and 2012 riots between Bodos and Bengali speaking Muslims resulted in the upsurge of trafficking to double. Almost 4,00,000 people from 400 villages got displaced in the riots of 2012. One would still find relief camps running in Kashugaon, Karigaon and other areas in Kokrajhar, some running since the 1980s, inhabited by Santhali and other displaced people. The riots make it easier for traffickers to exploit the oppressed population and smuggle children, both young boys and girls, effortlessly from such camps.

Sujata by Shailendra (4)Trafficking Victims

When Chancharang Narzary was trafficked in June, 2015 for bonded labour work from his village Sorupara, he was 14-years-old and studying in the ninth standard. The accused named Romesh took him to Guwahati, on the pretext of getting him a good job and better lifestyle and Rs. 2,000 as monthly salary in the hotel industry. His 53-year-old mother, Romphan Narzary, went berserk when she didn’t hear from her pisala (son) for two years. Today, Chancharang is back to home after he finally managed to flee in September 2017.

“Romesh took my son and after that there was no word from him (Chancharang) for two years. He was forced to do menial and tedious jobs at a small hotel. And, he was never paid a single salary in two years. I had a horrendous time away from my son for two years. What and how he was doing, alive or dead, I had no idea. I am happy he has returned. We are poor people. We will see what we can do for him so that he doesn’t have to be desperate again to earn money,” his mother said.

Another distressing story is that of 15-year-old Korobi (name changed). Never in her wildest dreams had she thought that her visit to a nearby village market would cost her her childhood.

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Assam

2016:
91 cases reported
Total 249 victims trafficked (163 females and 86 males);
92 victims rescued (63 females and 29 males);
Assam stands at 11th position in all-India rank on trafficking;
Purpose of Human Trafficking: Forced Labour (36), Sexual Exploitation for Prostitution (51), Domestic Servitude (5);
Cases convicted by Court: 0
(Source: NCRB report 2016)
2015:
1,494 cases reported
Assam was at top in all-India rank based on trafficking.
(Source: NCRB report 2015)
Missing children
Total 2,413 children were missing till 2016 (1381 in 2016 and 1032 in previous years). Among them were 1,474 girls and 939 boys.
(Source: NCRB report 2016)
From 2012 to 2014 (October), a total of 4,754 children were still untraced in the state.
(Source: ASCPCR report 2016)
Some Missing cases of Baksa
Bandhani Nag, Bilu, or Deepti Kachwa (16) went missing in March 2017 Anita Toppo (30) went missing in September 2017. Sheila Eka (age 14, at the time she went missing in 2012) Sunita Lakra (age 14, in 2010 when she was reported missing) Chandani Lakra (age 15, in 2009 when she was reported missing)

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Bottlenecks

1. Lack of data with regard to child protection
2. Lack of awareness about child protection issues and services among other key line departments & mechanisms to tackle it among the public and other line departments
3. Lack of infrastructural and educational facilities
4. Lack of knowledge among officials on their functions and minimum convergence between government officials
5. Lack of specially trained manpower
6. Destination coordination problems: Police is given the responsibility to bring back the children but they don’t have funds for such cases of reintegration and family reunification.
(Source: ASCPCR report 2016)

Korobi was trafficked from Siliguri to Kokrajhar, that are apart by a distance that can be covered in three-and-a-half hours via train and six hours by road. In 2016, Korobi and her friends went to a local market where two unknown men gave her some eatables laced with sedatives that made her unconscious.

After that, she was abducted. Korobi, who had to go through a harrowing experience of sexual exploitation for almost a year, sounded terrified as she narrated her ordeal. “Those men gave me something to eat which made me
unconscious. I tried to resist but they gagged me, preventing my cries from reaching anyone’s ears. I was handed over to a man who kept me at his house in Gosaigaon. I was told that I will be sent to work as a domestic servant, but I was sexually abused and beaten.”

While trapped by her traffickers, Korobi would plan her escape every single day.“Finally, one day I somehow managed to use the phone. First thing I did was call my brother, then the police who eventually rescued me. Manuh bilak beya asil (They were bad people).” Korobi is currently undergoing counselling and is enrolled in a school run by Kokrajhar-based NGO called NEDAN Foundation.

The trafficking scenario in Kokrajhar is quite gloomy. According to NEDAN Foundation, almost 16 minor children, all in the age group of 10 to 17 years, went missing in 2016-17. Among the missing are Muslim and Bodo children. Such cases are not even reported by the mainstream media.

Tehelka also found out through the locals that from 1998 to 2016, children in large numbers were trafficked from the district to Gujarat, Kerala, Punjab and other parts of India, on the pretext of being given an education. According to a source, the ‘agents’ targeted families that were victims of ethnic conflicts, displacement, unemployment, poverty, etc.

On condition of anonymity, one of the parents whose minor daughter was trafficked in the name of getting an education expressed fear of never getting to see her again. “They threatened my daughter many times. If they find out that you (this correspondent) came to meet us, they might not send her back ever. Please, do something,” said the inconsolable mother who spoke to her daughter over the phone just twice in two years.

On the condition of anonymity, some locals talked to Tehelka and informed that more than 3,000 children have been illegally fished from Kokrajhar by some non-government educational institutions since 1998. “In the Northeast, it is a crime for the taker (persons or institutions), as well as for the giver (families) under the law, as per the Juvenile Justice Act, 2000, to take children under 14 years of age away from their parents and their culture,” one of them said.

Many parents are still hopeful of reuniting with their children from whom they haven’t heard for several years now.

Child Welfare Committee feels helpless

When Tehelka asked Moloya Deka, Chairman of Child Welfare Committee (CWC), Kokrajhar, to take a note of the matter, she shockingly asserted, “We (CWC) are aware of this fact and, yes, you are right, this is going on since 1998. But nobody can do anything.”

Expressing distress over the rampant child trafficking in Kokrajhar, she said, “Trafficking is rampant in Kokrajhar and this notorious menace cannot be stopped so easily, because the ethnic conflicts that led to the displacement of thousands of poor made them a prey for the traffickers. The traffickers in the name of recruitment agents run placement drives to lure thousands of poverty-stricken, displaced villagers to get in their traps. Usually, it is observed that either a trafficker is already known to the victim’s family or somebody from the same village or community does trafficking, not an outsider.”

Deka also said, “Level of education and awareness among the tribal communities, especially among the parents in Kokrajhar, is almost zero. This is one main factor why parents readily give away their kids when traffickers knock on their doors pretending to offer free education or lucrative jobs. This ignorance encourages traffickers to penetrate to porous pockets of BTC which are still untouched.”

60 missing girls of Chirang

In Chirang district of Bodoland, at least 50-60 girls have been trafficked in the past five years from the inaccessible forest village of Deosri, just 10-km away from Gelephu town in Bhutan. This was not the first time that Adivasi and Santhali girls from Deosri or Dagiri were trafficked to be engaged in bonded labour. In fact, there are hundreds of unreported cases from Chirang district.

The girls were in the age group of 14 to 24 when they were trafficked, and the numbers of trafficked girls could go up to 70 after thorough investigation, Tehelka learnt from the All Adivasi Students’ Association of Assam (AASAA) and All Santhal Students Union (ASSU).

“We have the information that bogus placement agents and some hotel owners from Gelephu town of Bhutan have taken the girls to work in their hotels as bonded labourers. Parents and families do not have the basic information like where their daughters are working, what kind of work they do or where they are,” said Ananta Murmur, vice-president, AASAA, Chirang district.

“Our sources told us that the girls are strictly restricted from leaving the hotels. Members of AASAA and ASSU went to Gelephu and tried meeting the girls discreetly by working in some of the hotels. “But they (the trafficked girls) refused to acknowledge us fearing backlash from the owners and feeling of shame (because of their involvement in forced sex work),” said Ananta.

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Dealing with victims

After a trafficking victim (minor or adult) is rescued, what comes as the next level of challenge is counselling. Tehelka spoke to Gauri Goswami, Counsellor, Navajeevan home, ACRD, Assam, about difficulties in dealing with trafficked victims. On this she said, “Post the rescue operation, in the initial period at homes, victims are seen immediately isolating themselves from the world, while some get extremely aggressive. Their past experience even inflicts depression, mental illness, besides leaving scars of the past. It is essential that they are treated with utmost love and respect, feel secure in the homes.” Working since 2009 at Navajeevan, Goswami said, “We help them indulge in recreational activities like singing, yoga, dance, craft work and various hobbies; participate in community-level programmes.”

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Most of the trafficked girls have the same background – extreme poverty. For example, 14-year-old Miru Hasda from Hatisar, who is among the 60 girls trafficked from Chirang. She was forced to be a full-time domestic servant to a family in Gelephu. The Bhutanese family had allegedly taken her by promising a salary of Rs.2,000 per month to her family. According to her relatives, Miru had been taken to Gelephu by her current employer six months ago, but after constant abuses hurled at her, she fled and returned home. Her happiness was, however, short-lived. The Bhutanese family returned to force her back to Bhutan and work for them. Extreme poverty led Miru’s parents, Lalchand Hasda and Barki Mandi, to give away their minor daughter to the family, but, they haven’t received any money yet. The parents are also reluctant to complain to the authorities.

40 Children rescuedPorous borders

Here, the bigger question is how the girls manage to reach Geluphu by crossing the India-Bhutan border despite tight security being deployed round-the-clock to safeguard the border gates and check upon any illegal activities.

On this, Ananta said, “Now, this is a critical question, how cross-border trafficking could happen in spite of such tight security at the border gates. It is to be noted that there are labour unions stationed at the border gates who record details of every single migrant labour coming to India or Bhutan for work on a daily basis. Without their permission, no migrant labour can come to India or cross towards Bhutan to work.

But the agents are too smart. They use hotel vehicles that have vehicle registration plates of Bhutan while entering India. Usually, hotel vehicles with Bhutanese registration plates get a go ahead at the border gates, therefore, they easily enter the poor border villages of Assam, pick up the girls and return to Bhutan.”

He further said, “Thankfully, the Royal Bhutan Police (RBP) is very cooperative. But, it is unfortunate that every time Bhutan Police raids the hotels on tip-off from their sources, the hotel owners transfer the girls to undisclosed locations before the authorities can reach them. There is a nexus between hotel owners and agents, where the agents act as informers to such hotels.”

AASAA and other student unions are working relentlessly to chalk out a plan to dig out details of all the girls and bring them back home, with the help of NGOs and other concerned authorities. They are also drawing plans to sensitise parents to curb the menace.

It is seen that the Santhal and Adivasi communities in Lower Assam have been severely targeted by the traffickers, time and again. The level of ignorance is high and education level is absolutely zero. At least in the case of the Bodo community, trafficking has come down to some extent. Bodo students union has been mobilising Bodo people to educate them on the issue of trafficking through timely interaction with parents and intervention. The same action is, sadly, missing in the far-flung border villages situated near the Indo-Bhutan border.

Low conviction rate of traffickers

As per reports from Assam, everyday four children go missing and among them girls are the top victims of this nefarious human trafficking trade.

Digambar Narzary, Chairman, NEDAN, highlighted that less number of convicts in trafficking cases is a problem too. “NEDAN has put 45 traffickers behind the bars and only four have been convicted. Such is the case here. This encourages culprits to move freely sans fear and continue with trafficking.”

NEDAN started a national campaign called ‘every 8 minutes a child goes missing in India’ on missing children to stop child trafficking in the country. The NGO has been encouraging the locals to come out and report such cases without being named.

For this, NEDAN started an SMS service to keep a track on trafficking cases or those of missing people in Kokrajhar, Chirang and other border and remote forest villages. Anybody with a basic mobile phone can inform NEDAN about such incidents by calling or sending a message to 9229224424. According to Rajeev Sharma, Director of Guwahati-based NGO GOLD (Global Organisation for Life Development), the number of trafficking victims is much higher in reality considering actual reported and unreported cases from every nook and corner of Assam.

“In reality, approximately, 10,000 women and children are trafficked each year from Assam. Also, there is no significant increase in conviction of the traffickers which has made the trafficking a risk-free business. It is very much required to strengthen the Anti-Human Trafficking (AHT) task forces in the police stations through various training and awareness programmes.”

Since its inception in 1998, GOLD has facilitated approximately 50 rescue operations with police and rescued 500 victims.

Assam Centre for Rural Development (ACRD), a noted organisation working for trafficking victims, especially in the porous pockets of Baksa and Udalguri districts of Assam since 2009, said that as per their data, 171 girls have reportedly been trafficked from Baksa and Udalguri since 2009.

Prerna Changakakati, Director, ACRD, said, “There is no database to monitor inter-state migration, as a result, there is no tracking of the girls who go missing.

The state needs stringent laws to safeguard victims, bust the nexus and punish the traffickers. Also, better employment opportunity should be created to prevent re-trafficking of rescued children and women from Assam. The government should also release sufficient and timely funds to organisations working on rehabilitation of trafficked victims.”

Policy needed for human trafficking

Poverty is not the only factor behind the increasing number of trafficking cases in lower Assam. Lack of awareness among adolescences has kept the human trafficking trade alive in the state. “Today, young boys and girls aspire to go out, earn money and experience a better lifestyle, but they do not know how to earn it. This is the reason why
many children and youths are easily lured by traffickers,” said Dr Sunita Changkakati, Chairperson, Assam State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (ASCPCR).

However, while trafficking cases persist, surprisingly there are no specific policies to curb the menace. When asked about the programmes to control trafficking situation in Assam, the Chairperson said, “ASCPCR is planning to formulate a policy to combat trafficking.”

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Haryana shocker: Missing teen's raped, brutalised body found in Jind

rape4In another Nirbhaya like gruesome rape and murder case, the teenager girl who was missing since January 9 from Kurukshetra, was found dead near a canal in Budhakhera village of Jind district on January 13.

The body of the 15-year-old Class X student was found with mutilated private parts and a ruptured liver at the canal, 100 km away from Haryana’s Jind district. Girl’s body was covered just by a torn shirt, and there were several wounds on her face, neck, lips and chest.

The district police have reportedly detained six youths from a village in Kurukshetra for their alleged involvement in the murder of the minor girl.”The main suspect was a student of class 12 and the special investigating teams were gathering evidence” said SP Abhishek Garg.

The key suspect was known to the victim and age of other suspects is being verified for the further legal course, the police officer added further.

The postmortem report revealed that the genitals of the girl were mutilated. PGI Rohtak Doctor SK Dattarwal said: “the body had many injury marks, the private parts were mutilated and there were lot of internal injuries. Signs of sexual assault are visible and looks like three-four people were responsible and signs of drowning also found.”

Girl’s father hit out at administration and demanded justice. The family members even refused to cremate her body till their demands, including a CBI investigation and armed security, were not met.

Two special investigation teams led by senior officers have been set up to investigate the schoolgirl’s rape.

In credibility crisis UIDAI needs to plug loopholes rather than targeting media

aadhaar-card-imageWhen American whistleblower-in-exile Edward Snowden tweeted in the wee hours that the “UAIDAI is responsible for policies that destroyed the privacy of a billion Indians”, within minutes it was trending on twitter, essaying the mood of the nation. His tweet that the journalist (referring to the Tribune) exposing the Aadhaar breach deserved an award, not an investigation, got thousands of retweets and likes within a jiffy.

The newspaper investigation had recently exposed the vulnerability of citizens’ data which is being sold by unscrupulous people for a paltry sum of Rs 500. The report suggested that any buyer can take full advantage of one’s entire information because the government is hell-bent on linking virtually everything with the Aadhaar. We are forced to link our PAN cards, bank accounts, provident funds, etc. with our Aadhaar numbers because threats keep pouring in by way of SMSs from banks, telecom companies and tax authorities to get our accounts linked with Aadhaar numbers or lose them.

Ironically, instead of addressing the cyber security concerns, the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) rubbished the report as “a case of misreporting” and denied any breach but at the same time lodged an FIR against the persons involved including the journalist who did the story. Why an FIR if there was no data breach? The silence of the IT Ministry, and clarification by Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad arguing that the FIR was “against unknown persons”, seems worrisome as it appears to be an attempt to muzzle the whistleblower. There is need to understand the sensitivity of the issue because hackers can play havoc with the personal details of people. Fragile technology needs care and regular monitoring because a tearing hurry and its forced insistence while ignoring its cyber misuse would put people at risk of financial fraud and data breach thus putting public interest to jeopardy. It is a travesty of justice to file FIR against the media house and the reporter by treating them as accused under charges like cheating and impersonation.

 The UIDAI should order a thorough internal investigation into the alleged breach and make its findings public. There is an urgent need for enacting data protection legislation to reform the policies for the sake of privacy of people. It is good that UIDAI has recognised the need for a 16-digit temporary Virtual ID (VID) instead of Aadhaar number to authenticate identity for availing services from March 1. The introduction of KYC (Know Your Customer) and UID tokens to secure security concerns are steps in the right direction.

SC judges stage a coup against CJI: Institutional integrity takes a beating

The cracks in the Supreme Court edifice became visible on January 12 as “Big Four” judges in an unprecedented move accused the Chief Justice Dipak Misra of not strictly adhering to rules in assigning cases to appropriate benches which they said can create “doubt” about the institutional integrity of the apex court.

Speaking to the media at the residence of Justice J. Chelameswar, the judges said the Supreme Court administration was “not in order”. They also released an undated letter they wrote to Justice Misra in which they conceded that the Chief Justice was the master of the roster but this was “not a recognition of any superior authority, legal or factual of the Chief Justice over his colleagues”.

supreme-court-judges-press-conference_650x400_41515740029

The press conference tantamount to a judicial coup within the top court as four senior-most judges after the CJI – Justices Ranjan Gogoi, Kurian Joseph and Madan B. Lokur besides Justice Chelameswar – failed to convince the judicial patriarch over the issue in their last-minute effort this morning before they went public.

Justice Chelameswar said at a hurriedly convened press conference that the press conference is “an extraordinary event in the history of the judiciary and more particularly in this nation, even for this institution (Supreme Court)… Many things less than desirable have happened in the last few months. We owe a responsibility to the institution and the nation. We tried to collectively persuade the Chief Justice that certain things are not in order and remedial measures are necessary. Unfortunately, our efforts have failed in convincing the Chief Justice of India to take steps to protect this institution.”

The judges, however, did not refer to any particular matter the Chief Justice had decided in assigning benches. Asked specifically if they were upset over reference of the matter seeking a probe into the suspicious death of Special CBI Judge Brijgopal Harkishan Loya, Justice Gogoi said: “Yes.” But in the seven-page letter, they said they were not mentioning details only to avoid embarrassing the institution because “such departures have already damaged the image of this institution to some extent”.

The disharmony among the judges has reportedly been simmering since Justice Misra junked an order passed by Justice J Chelameswar in November last, and declared that the Chief Justice was the “master of the roster”. The CJI had given the order a day after a two-judge bench headed by Justice Chelameswar had passed an order that a five-judge bench of senior most judges in the apex court should be set up to consider an independent probe into an MCI corruption case in which bribes were allegedly taken in the name of settling cases pending before Supreme Court judges.

Holding that the Chief Justice was only the first among equals, the judges contended that in a matter of determination of roster there were well-settled and time-honored conventions guiding the Chief Justice, be it the convention dealing with the strength of the bench required to deal with a particular case or the composition thereof.

“A necessary corollary to the above-mentioned principle is the members of any multi-numbered judicial body, including this court, would not arrogate to themselves the authority to deal with and pronounce upon matters which ought to be heard by appropriate benches, both composition-wise and strength-wise with due regard to the roster fixed”, they wrote in the letter. They further said any departure from the two rules would not only lead to “unpleasant and undesirable consequences” of creating doubt in the body politic about the integrity of the institution.

Four-SC-judges-1024x768Of late, the twin rules mentioned above have not been strictly adhered to, lamented the judges. There have been instances where cases having far-reaching consequences for the nation and the institution had been assigned selectively to the benches without any rational basis for such assignment. This must be guarded against at all cost. “Democracy won’t survive without free judiciary… We are left with no choice but to take this before the nation”, observed Justice Chelameswar. In response to a question about impeaching the CJI, he said it was for the nation to decide.

The explosive press conference has caused tremors across the country, remarked a senior advocate Prashant Yadav. He said that the problems enunciated by the SC judges are not new. He hoped that the full house court should deliberate and evolve a robust mechanism to restore the public faith.

There are reports that the Centre’s Narendra Modi government immediately went into huddle to discuss the fallout of today’s critical development. The PMO is reportedly holding talks with the law ministry.

Bihar CM's convoy pelted with stones in Buxar

Bihar CM Nitish Kumar
Bihar CM Nitish Kumar

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s convoy was attacked on January 12 in Nandan area of Buxar district during a ‘samiksha yatra’.
Though the chief minister was rescued safely, two security persons were reportedly injured in the incident.
The incident occurred when he was on his way to a village as part of the state-wide Vikas Samiksha Yatra.
“Some people feel disturbed over my commitment to the progress of the state. They try to mislead and provoke others but people should not get perturbed over such minor happenings,” the chief minister said while addressing a public meeting in Dumraon block later.

UP constable rapes 7-year-old girl in Greater Noida

constable_Noida45-year-old Uttar Pradesh police constable Subhash Singh allegedly raped a seven-year-old girl on January 11, right before her younger brother in Greater Noida’s Surajpur area.

The constable, who is posted with the sales tax department, was in an inebriated state when he took the girl to his house and raped her. She was playing outside her house when Subhash, taking advantage of the situation lured the girl with a ten rupee note inside his house, said Akhilesh Pradhan, SHO, Surajpur police station.

Singh immediately fled the scene after which the neighbours reached for her rescue when they heard her screaming. The accused returned to his rented room the next morning assuming that the issue has been resolved, only to find the victim’s family and local people were waiting for him.

Singh has been booked for raping the minor under Protection of Children against Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act.

The child has been admitted to a district hospital in Noida for medical examination.

ISRO launches 100th satellite Cartosat-2 Series

The Indian Space Research Organisation on January 12 successfully launched workhorse Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV-C40) carrying 100th satellite Cartosat-2 Series and 29 other satellites in orbit.

The launch was lifted off from the Satish Dhawisro_cartosatknklan Space Centre in Sriharikota, Andhra Pradesh at 9:28 am.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi took on his Twitter to congratulate the ISRO team, “My heartiest congratulations to ISRO and its scientists on the successful launch of PSLV today. This success in the New Year will bring benefits of the country’s rapid strides in space technology to our citizens, farmers, fishermen etc.”

He further tweeted, “The launch of the 100th satellite by ISRO signifies both its glorious achievements and also the bright future of India’s space programme.”

The PSLV-C40 carrying 100th satellite Cartosat-2 Series also carried satellites from Canada, Finland, France, Republic of Korea, UK and the United States.

To this PM Modi tweeted, “Benefits of India’s success are available to our partners! Out of the 31 Satellites, 28 belonging to 6 other countries are carried by today’s launch.”

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