Between 2016 and 2021, the ministry of WCD and MHA has introduced increasingly robust drafts of the Anti-Trafficking Bill – each draft going through multiple rounds of consultations with stakeholders and government bodies. The Trafficking in Persons (Prevention, Care and Rehabilitation) 2021, published by the MWCD on 30th June 2021, is perhaps the most comprehensive draft. The 2021 version attempts to address several criticisms that were raised by stakeholders against the TOP Bill 2018. The public had 14 days’ time to provide feedback to the MWCD on the 2021 draft Bill. Presently It’s unclear which aspects of the Bill have been revised based on the feedback received as the revised Bill has not been made public. The Monsoon session of the Parliament did not see the revised Bill being introduced despite being listed on the agenda. The TIP Bill 2021 is once again listed to be introduced during the Winter 2021 session of Parliament. We must wait until it is tabled in the Parliament to know whether the legislation will deliver India the Anti-Trafficking Law that it needs to organize and strengthen the response system to the organized crime.
Many debates have taken place on whether India really needs another law to address human trafficking. The fact remains that the absence of an organized and streamlined system underlies much of the struggles faced by law enforcement and the judiciary, as well as by the civil society organizations in responding to trafficking and in providing victim support.
At this juncture, it is very clear that for India to strengthen its battle against human trafficking, certain critical shifts are a must in its anti-trafficking laws and policies –
1) Investigation of human trafficking must be mandated to specialized agencies with the requisite training, tools, resources, and funding to be able to conduct an interstate and cross-border investigation and collect evidence using necessary technological support.
2) Rescue protocols must be well defined to ensure victim-friendly exit processes,
3) Provisions for implementing intelligence gathering mechanisms for prevention and rescues must be clearly articulated in the law,
4) Rehabilitation must go beyond institutionalized, one-size-fit-all service providing model, and ensure community-based rehabilitation and reintegration for all survivors in order to strengthen their resilience and agency – not only to prevent further exploitation and trafficking but also to enable their meaningful participation in the justice system and processes,
5) Adequate funds and robust monitoring systems must be mandated by the law in order to empower the implementing bodies in breaking the organized crime and business of trafficking.
The last publicly available draft of the TIP Bill 2021 leaves many provisions of the Bill vaguely defined – to be addressed at the time of Central and State rule formation. For example, how will the NIA coordinate with AHTUs already established at the district level by state governments is left undefined. The funds that will be required for establishing the committees, for cross-border investigations, for rehabilitation and compensation of survivors – which were mentioned in the 2018 draft, have not found mentioned in the 2021 draft. The process of survivors’ reintegration in their communities are left undefined – some of the sections in the Bill provide for survivor support services via community-level volunteers, however, these provisions are vague. Provisions for researches to inform the implementation of the law and relevant anti-trafficking policies, formation of schemes and policies, mechanisms and strategies for prevention also are not well defined in the Bill. Law is supposed to provide us with the strategies and the underlying principle of interventions. Formation of rules must adhere to these strategies and principles to operationalize implementation of the interventions.
States of course must have the power and authority to adapt the strategies to the specific contexts of their state – the strategies that work in Tamilnadu may not work in Rajasthan for prevention of trafficking of adolescents, the process of rehabilitating and compensating trafficked families from Chhattisgarh may need to be different from rehabilitation and compensation process of girls and women rescued from Maharashtra. However, if the legal mandates around these critical provisions are absent in the Act, Central and state rules may prove to be inadequate in achieving the aim the TIP Bill 2021 states in its preamble. Leaving it up to the formation of State Rules to define these critical elements and their implementation will lead to further confusion and lack of coordinated actions between states. At present, traffickers enjoy impunity due to this lack of coordinated action. The law must provide the system for the response coordination to be strengthened by adequately incorporating each of these five critical shifts in the Bill itself.