West Bengal judicial affairs minister Nisith Adhikari on Sunday ruled out any immediate amendment to the Prevention of Immortal Traffic Act, vesting more powers with Calcutta policemen to prosecute women found soliciting in the city.
Faced with the increasing problem of women trying to hook customers on Calcutta streets, the police have recently sent a proposal to chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s department, seeking “more teeth” for the existing laws to tackle this menace.
“We have not gone through the proposal sent by the city police, seeking more powers to firmly deal with women soliciting on streets. This is a serious matter and has to be discussed with representatives of various women’s organisations before taking a final decision,” minister Adhikari said, adding that the government had to ensure that the police do not misuse the power to harass innocent women.
Additional commissioner of city police (I) Sujit Sarkar felt that the punishment meted out to those involved in the flesh trade has to be more stringent to contain the sudden rise in the number of such cases. “The women arrested in connection with immoral trafficking normally get bail as soon as they are produced in courts. This helps them return to the business,” he observed.
An officer of the immoral traffic section at Lalbazar confirmed during the day that the number of cases involving women soliciting passersby on various streets across the city has increased alarmingly these days, due to the absence of any “deterrent action”. He observed: “Though women are being arrested on a regular basis in the course of raids, the crime-graph is consistently soaring.”
The proposed amendment, according to home department officers, allows the police to put the offending women behind bars for at least seven days and also impose a fine of Rs 500.
However, representatives of various women’s organisations, cutting across party lines, are up in arms against the proposed amendment. The West Bengal Women’s Commission has decided to discuss the “contentious” issue at its impending meeting, slated for April 17. Shyamali Gupta, president of the CPM-controlled Ganatantrik Mahila Samity, was “in favour of certain changes in the existing Act. But any attempt to give more power to the police will frustrate the very purpose of changing the rules,” she observed.