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Missing and trafficked
- Social activists blame political unrest, lack of jobs

Darjeeling, Feb. 21: The number of people missing from north Bengal has increased many times over in the past decade, triggering fears that more persons are being trafficked from the region than earlier.

Social activists have blamed lack of job opportunities and political instability for the rise in the “missing” figures.

According to figures released by the Bengal CID in response to an RTI query filed by a Delhi-based anti-trafficking organisation, Shakti Vahini, the number of “missing” people in the state has gone up to 6,514 from 196 between 2001 and 2010.

The most alarming figure the report has thrown up is not the increase in “missing” people in the whole state but the rise in the number in the six districts of north Bengal (see chart).

While only three missing cases were reported from the six north Bengal districts in 2001, the number was 1089 in 2010. “The situation is alarming in north Bengal and with the political instability, the closure of tea gardens and the abysmal condition of the tourism sector, these figures are bound to rise. It is time that a proactive intervention programme is devised for the region,” said Rishi Kant, a social activist associated with Shakti Vahini.

“Only yesterday, we rescued a minor from Balurghat who had been sold off to a placement agency in Gurgaon. We are in the process of lodging a police complaint in Delhi as the trafficker is based here. The minor is currently lodged in a protection home here in Gurgaon,” Kant said over the phone from Delhi.

Asked if the increase in the number of “missing” cases was actually a sign that the people were becoming more aware and were filing complaints in various police stations on the slightest suspicion, the activist replied in the negative. “The figures are only the tip of the iceberg and the numbers of complaints have increased because the number of trafficked people in every place has increased,” said Kant.

Shakti Vahini in a document titled “Missing Children and Women from West Bengal — An Overview”, has said that the number of missing children in the state has also increased from 4,621 to 8,599 between 2008 and 2010. “The state’s share of total industrial output in India was 9.8 per cent in 1980–81, declining to 5 per cent by 1997–98. However, the service sector has grown at a rate higher than the national rate. According to government estimates for 1999-2000, 27 per cent of Bengal's population lived below poverty line,” the document stated hinting that lack of industrialisation has been the bane of the state.

In Bengal, North24-Paraganas and Nadia top the list of districts with the highest number of “missing people”. While only 53 people were shown as missing from North 24 Parganas in 2001, the number rose to 1,945 in 2010. From 13 the number has increased to 1227 for Nadia for the same years.

Although Ranvir Kumar, the inspector-general of police (north Bengal) could not be contacted for an immediate overview of the situation here, Kant said: “We have learnt that every district will be given a fund of Rs 30 lakh to start an anti-human trafficking cell. The fund is being made available from the Union home ministry.”

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