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High Court

HC lens on trafficking compensation

Order comes on a batch of petitions by survivors alleging delay in receiving compensation.

Debraj Mitra And Tapas Ghosh | Published 26.06.22, 04:34 AM
The Calcutta High Court

The Calcutta High Court

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The high court has directed the Bengal government and the state legal services authority to file reports on the process of disbursement of compensation to survivors of human trafficking.

The order came on a batch of petitions by survivors alleging delay in receiving compensation.

Over 30 survivors, from North and South 24-Parganas, who have been awarded compensations in various orders since 2019 are yet to receive the money, said rights activists.

The apparent reason cited for the non-disbursal of payment is lack of funds with the state legal services authority (SLSA), the custodians of the corpus created by the government for disbursal of funds under the victim compensation scheme.

The money is intended to provide a degree of financial independence to the survivors and help meet health and education expenses.

An SLSA official said he was yet to receive a copy of the order. “We have recently received some money from the state government. We have started disbursals according to the schedule,” he said.

What the court said

“The SLSA as well as the State are hence directed to file reports... indicating the particular stages involved in the matter and whether the SLSA follows any rules in the sequence to be undertaken for disbursement of funds to the victims. Let such reports be filed within a period of six weeks,” said the Friday order by a single-judge bench of Justice Moushumi Bhattacharya.

On June 20, the same bench was hearing another similar petition. The judge had then asked the SLSA and the secretary of the state finance department to “file reports… for ensuring that sufficient funds are given to the SLSA...”.

On Friday, the counsel of the SLSA said there were “no existing guidelines as to the sequence of disbursement”.

The state government’s counsel said that the finance department funds the SLSA on the basis of “requisition” made by the judicial department.

“It is evident… that there are no existing rules or guidelines governing the frequency or nature of the requisition to be made by the SLSA to the judicial department for funds... There is also a lack of clarity on the priority of the order of disbursement to the victims,” the order said.

The judge clubbed the petitions together and listed the matter for hearing after eight weeks.

The numbers

In August 2021, 27 trafficking survivors wrote to chief minister Mamata Banerjee urging her intervention in disbursal of compensation awarded to them by the state that was pending for alleged lack of funds.

The survivors, from North and South 24-Parganas, had written the letter under the banner of three survivors’ collectives. The details of the cases — name of the survivors, date and amount of the orders — had been enclosed with the letter.

The oldest compensation order came on September 5, 2019. The most recent came on July 8, 2021.

A follow-up letter was sent in January this year. Activists said there has been no response to the letters.

“There have been four compensation orders for survivors from South 24-Parganas since the second letter was sent. But not a single disbursement,” said Subhasree Raptan, programme manager of Goranbose Gram Bikash Kendra, an NGO that mentors several survivors’ collectives in South 24-Parganas.

Sambhu Nanda of Partners in Anti-Trafficking, a coalition in North 24-Parganas, said an interim compensation of Rs 1.5 lakh was provided to a survivor earlier this month, the first disbursement since the second letter.

Shot in the arm

Survivors welcomed the order and lawyers and activists hoped that it was the first step in streamlining the compensation process, still long and cumbersome and fraught with legal hurdles.

A survivor from North 24-Parganas was awarded a compensation of Rs 4 lakh in 2019. She had challenged the amount at the SLSA and got it increased to Rs 8 lakh.

“But till now nothing has been credited to my account,” said the survivor.

 

 

“I hope this order will benefit many more survivors like me who have been waiting for their compensation amount for years. I think this is a victory for all of us,” said the survivor.

Another woman from South 24-Parganas was granted a compensation of Rs 4 lakh in 2020 but is still waiting for the money.

“I want to start a tailoring business with the money,” said the woman, a member of a survivors’ collective called Bandhanmukti.

“It is a statutory responsibility of the state to ensure funds to compensate the victims. The money is not a favour. It is an acknowledgement from the state of its failure in protecting the victim,” said Kaushik Gupta, a lawyer who represented the petitioners.

“This order will impact all other victims of trafficking. I hope it will streamline the disbursement process, which lacks clarity as of now,” said Gupta, a member of Tafteesh, a coalition of survivors of human trafficking, lawyers, researchers, rights activists and other stakeholders that has been instrumental in supporting survivors in their legal battles.

Pompi Banerjee, psychologist and researcher with Sanjog, an organisation working on intersectional issues of gender, rights, migration and anti-human trafficking, said the money had changed the lives of many survivors.

“In a study conducted in 2021, we came across several survivors who put the money to good use. One started a stationery business, another built a house, a third funded her daughter’s education. In the aftermath of the pandemic, the money will be effective in rebuilding the lives of survivors,” said Banerjee, also a member of Tafteesh.

Last updated on 26.06.22, 04:50 AM
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