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West Bengal sees a thrive in Human Tafficking

India witnessed a 38.7% rise in human trafficking over the previous year, NCRB

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source: respectwomen.co.in
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Kolkata: Over nine years since 2005-06, India’s gross domestic product (GDP) rose 76 percent, hiding darker changes that evolved in concert with this economic transformation.

One of those is a 20 percent rise in human trafficking related to “purposes of prostitution”, with West Bengal accounting for a fifth of such cases and being the epicentre of India’s human-trafficking industry.

Forty-two percent of minor girls captured by traffickers nationwide are from West Bengal

We met Aamina and Pinki in Sanlaap, an NGO-run home in Naredrapur, 17 km from central Kolkata. Their future is uncertain, but thousands of minor girls sold into sexual slavery don’t get even these breaks, especially not in West Bengal, which is particularly dangerous for minor girls from impoverished families.

Consequently, Sonagachi in central Kolkata is reported to be Asia’s largest red-light district, destination of many trafficked girls, most with little or no hope of escape.

In 2014-the latest year for which data are available – India witnessed a 38.7 percent rise in human trafficking over the previous year, according to a National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) report. With 1,096 cases, West Bengal accounts for 20.1 percent of India’s total.

The state accounted for 42 percent (850) of minor girls acquired by traffickers nationwide, the NCRB data revealed.

Despite several government programmes, there is a “severe lack of awareness” across West Bengal of the dangers from human traffickers, said Geeta Banerjee of Sanlaap.

A colleague, Tapoti Bhowmick, pointing to the ubiquity of such trafficking in West Bengal, narrated a tea stopover with some police officers on the road into Kolkata. The demeanour of the tea-stall owner appeared “shifty” and troubled her. On her return, she called the local administration and spoke of her “hunch”. Two weeks later, Bhowmick was told the police had rescued 50 Nepalese girls from the basement of the tea stall – 19 of those were aged between nine and 14.

Not enough anti-trafficking units: Given Rs.1 lakh per month, many don’t bother

Why do so many girls never escape the world of traffickers and brothels? The answers lie in the inadequate response of state and central governments.

After ratifying a global convention on transnational organised crime in 2011, the Centre proposed it would set up 335 AHTUs (anti human trafficking units) in half of India’s “vulnerable” districts and train 10,000 police officers, prosecutors, judges and other stakeholders. For more than a decade, New Delhi has also issued to India’s states 15 detailed advisories on the subject.

These plans are failing, as an IndiaSpend investigation revealed, for two leading reasons:

1. For instance, of the proposed 335 AHTUs to be established by 2013, no more than 270 were set up until January 2016, according to a government answer in the Rajya Sabha.

2. These units, together, were given Rs.20 crore during 2010-11 to 2014-15, or Rs.1 lakh per month per unit, or less than half the Rs.54 crore needed, by the centre’s reckoning. Many did not even use this money, minutes of AHTU meetings reveal. In one case, after buying 10 tables, a computer and a Rs.3,000 mobile phone, there was nothing left.

Why the anti-human-trafficking units are failures

A table, 10 chairs, a desktop computer, two mobile phones (not more than Rs.3,000 each), a video camera, a motorcycle.

This is the equipment that the Centre provides each AHTU, supposed to be established in half the police districts in each of 29 states and union territories vulnerable to human trafficking. Establishing and training such units first began a decade ago, a joint initiative of India’s Ministry of Home Affairs and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

In Bengaluru, the AHTU is “adequately equipped”, said deputy superintendent of police D N Shettennavar. It operates out of a single room but has six computers and multiple telephone lines. It’s headed by a superintendent, with a team of three DSPs, three inspectors, four head constables and two constables.

Still, “(the) workforce is not enough, and central funding is inadequate,” said Shettennavar.

Compared to the Bengaluru AHTU, its Kolkata counterpart is a poor cousin.

Here, at ground zero of India’s trade in women forced into sexual slavery, the AHTU does not even have a dedicated telephone line – it shares one with the Protection of Women and Children Cell.

AHTU chief, West Bengal, Sarbari Bhattacharjee was not available for comment. Queries sent by email to Malay Kumar, a senior home ministry bureaucrat, went unanswered.

In 2011, West Bengal had four AHTUs – it should have nine for 19 districts (till June 2015). In 2012, instead of rising, the number fell to three, according to Lok Sabha data. From Rs.30 lakh, money from the Centre to set up AHTUs in West Bengal fell 25 percent to Rs.22.7 lakh.

With a 2,217 km border with Bangladesh, 92 km with Nepal and 175 km with Bhutan, West Bengal is a trafficking transit point. The lack of policing is manifest in the state’s rising tide of trafficking, evident in the women who populate the pubs and bars on Kolkata’s outskirts.

Across India, a new generation of traffickers uses technology to outsmart police

A private tutor, a pharmacist and a life-insurance salesman were some of the people involved in trafficking underage girls and young women, police investigation in West Bengal revealed.

The story is much the same across India.

Traffickers have become “super advanced” and “technology has accelerated and diversified the forms of trafficking in India”, said Sunita Krishnan, awarded a Padma Shri in 2016 for the work as founder of Prajwala, an advocacy that rescues and rehabilitates trafficked women.

A gang-rape victim, Krishnan said society is “caught in a time warp”, believing that only rural girls are trafficked. “The reality is traffickers nowadays are trafficking literate, urban girls, too,” she said. “We have failed to understand that human trafficking is organised crime, not a social problem.”

Human trafficking is the fastest-growing criminal industry in the world, according to a United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNDOC) report, estimated at $32 billion, third only to illegal drugs and arms smuggling. (IANS)

 

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How telecom has become driver of economic change in India

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The country's hyper-competitive telecom sector has led the revolution from the front.
The country's hyper-competitive telecom sector has led the revolution from the front. Wikimedia Commons
  • India has done well to stay ahead of the curve in the technological revolution
  • The sectoral change in productivity has been the highest in the telecommunications sector since the reforms of 1991
  • India has managed to provide the cheapest telephony services around the world

For the most part of human history, the change was glacial in pace. It was quite safe to assume that the world at the time of your death would look pretty much similar to the one at the time of your birth. That is no longer the case, and the pace of change seems to be growing exponentially. Futurist Ray Kurzweil put it succinctly when he wrote in 2001: “We won’t experience 100 years of progress in the 21st century – it will be more like 20,000 years of progress (at today’s rate).” Since the time of his writing, a lot has changed, especially with the advent of the internet.

India has done well to stay ahead of the curve in the technological revolution. The country’s hyper-competitive telecom sector has led the revolution from the front. In fact, according to Reserve Bank of India data, the sectoral change in productivity has been the highest in the telecommunications sector since the reforms of 1991, growing by over 10 percent. On the other hand, no other sector has had a productivity growth of above five percent during the same period. It is no wonder that it has also been one of the fastest-growing sectors of the Indian economy, growing at over seven percent in the last decade itself.

Also Read: Social Media in India: Understanding The Dynamics of ‘Facebook’ and ‘Twitter’

Such an unprecedented pace of growth has been brought about the precise levels of change that Kurzweil was so enthusiastic about. Today’s smartphones have the power of computers that took an entire room in the 1990s, and the telecom sector has had to keep up with a provision of commensurate internet speeds and services. Meanwhile, India has managed to provide the cheapest telephony services around the world, which has hit rock bottom after the entry of Reliance Jio. This has ensured access to those even at the bottom of the pyramid.

A rise in internet penetration has distinct positive effects on economic growth of a country.
A rise in internet penetration has distinct positive effects on economic growth of a country. Wikimedia Commons

Even though consumers have come to be accustomed to fast-paced changes within the telecom sector, the entry of Jio altered the face of the industry like never before by changing the very basis of competition. Data became the focal point of competition for an industry that derived over 75 percent of its revenue from voice. It was quite obvious that there would be immediate economic effects due to it. Now that we’re nearing a year of Jio’s paid operations, during which time it has even become profitable, we saw it fit to quantify its socio-economic impact on the country. Three broad takeaways need to be highlighted.

Also Read: Quoting WhatsApp message renders ‘delete’ feature ineffective

First, the most evident effect has been the rise in affordability of calling and data services. Voice services have become practically costless while data prices have dropped from an average of Rs 152 per GB to lower than Rs 10 per GB. Such a drastic reduction in data prices has not only brought the internet within the reach of a larger proportion of the Indian population but has also allowed newer segments of society to use and experience it for the first time. Since the monthly saving of an average internet user came out to be Rs 142 per month (taking a conservative estimate that the consumer is still using 1 GB of data each month) and there are about 350 million mobile internet users in the country (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India data), the yearly financial savings for the entire country comes out to be Rs 60,000 crore.

To put things in perspective, this amount is more than four times the entire GDP of Bhutan. Therefore, mere savings by the consumer on data has been at astonishing proportions.

Today's smartphones have the power of computers that took an entire room in the 1990s, and the telecom sector has had to keep up with a provision of commensurate internet speeds and services. Wikimedia Commons
Today’s smartphones have the power of computers that took an entire room in the 1990s, and the telecom sector has had to keep up with a provision of commensurate internet speeds and services. Wikimedia Commons

Now, this data has been used for services that have brought to life a thriving app economy within the country. So, the second level of impact has been in the redressal of a variety of consumer needs — ranging from education, health and entertainment to banking. For instance, students in remote areas can now access online courseware and small businesses can access newer markets. Information asymmetry has been considerably reduced.

Third, a rise in internet penetration has distinct positive effects on economic growth of a country. These effects arise not merely from the creation of an internet economy, but also due to the synergy effects it generates. Information becomes more accessible and communication a lot easier. Businesses find it easier to operate and access consumers. Labour working in cities has to make less frequent trips home and becomes more productive as a result. Education and health services become available in inaccessible locations. Multiple avenues open up for knowledge and skill enhancement.

Also Read: Facebook to ‘Signal’ news gathering for journos

An econometric analysis for the Indian economy showed that the 15 percent increase in internet penetration due to Jio and the spill-over effects it creates will raise the per capita levels of the country’s GDP by 5.85 percent, provided all else remains constant.

Thus, India’s telecom sector will continue to drive the economy forward, at least in the short run, and hopefully catapult India into 20,000 years of progress within this century, as Kurzweil postulated. The best approach for the state would be to ensure the environment of unfettered competition within the industry. Maybe other sectors of the economy ought to take a leaf out of the telecom growth story. The Indian banking sector comes to mind. However, that is a topic for another day. (IANS)

(Amit Kapoor is Chair, Institute for Competitiveness, India. He can be contacted at Amit. Kapoor@competitiveness.in and tweets @kautiliya. Chirag Yadav, a senior researcher at the institute, has contributed to the article.)