Child trafficking scam: 550 kids disappear into thin air
Acting on a tip-off, 400 cops rushed to Bandra and Borivili stations hoping to nab the traffickers, but found the train empty
Friday left the Mumbai police in an eddy of disorientation.
An army of 400 officials from the city and railway police had stationed themselves at Borivli and Bandra railway terminuses for a mammoth rescue operation.
Thwarted operation: Around 550 male children board the Patna-Mumbai BDTS Express train No 19050 at Patna around Thursday afternoon, as per the railway reservation chart.
They were waiting for a train from Patna to receive around 550 children of a minority community who were reportedly victims of human trafficking.
The Government Railway Police (GRP) of Mumbai had received a tip-off earlier that children in the age group of 7-17 years, students of a religious school, were being brought to Mumbai, aboard the Patna-Mumbai BDTS Express Train No 19050, to work as labourers in hotels and other establishments.
Around 11.30 pm on Thursday night, they are made to alight at Dondaicha station, 40 km off Nandurbar. The schedule of the train doesn't mention an official halt at Dondaicha. Illustrations/Jishu Dev Malakar
So there they were, men in uniform waiting with packets of biscuits and bottles of water, to come to the aid of kids rescued from the clutches of child labour.
The train finally arrived, at Borivli at 8.20 am, and later at Bandra at 9.45 am yesterday, the waiting officials got aboard to take charge.
But, the train was practically empty. Officials found none of the children they were informed about; there were no more than 10 passengers on the train.
On Friday morning, the 400 police officials, waiting at Bandra and Borivli stations to rescue the kids, who were allegedly being transported to Mumbai for child labour, find the train empty but for 10 passengers.
Mumbai Railway Police Commissioner (GRP) Prabhat Kumar confirmed to MiD DAY that they did receive information on Thursday about juveniles being brought to the city to be forced into child labour, and the subsequent operation that was planned for Friday morning.
It was passed on to Bandra and other police stations. Deputy Commissioner of Police (Central Zone, GRP) GM Bhandari was present at the station to supervise the entire operation.
As frantic officials probed the children's whereabouts, their preliminary inquires made some disturbing revelations. They found out that over 500 children were offloaded from the train at Dondaicha railway station, 40 km before Nandurbar district in north-west Maharashtra on Thursday around 11.30 pm.
Oddly enough, the express train does not have an official halt at Dondaicha. Yet it was made to stop there for three minutes.
A panicked team attached to the Bandra railway police left for Nandurbar on Friday evening, hoping to glean information about the juveniles, and the purpose of their visit to the city.
Said Kumar, "We are awaiting reports from our counterparts in Nandurbar and the future course of action, if any, would be decided accordingly."
DCP Bhandari said, "Our inquiries have revealed that all the juveniles are male, and as per the reservation chart, they were travelling in different coaches in groups, between Patna Junction and Nandurbar, which was the final destination. Their further travel plan is not known."
The Bandra railway police have mentioned the operation details in the railway police station diary; as no child was found in the train, no case was registered.
According to Senior Inspector Vijay Dhopaokar, "We had sought additional help from city police stations like Nirmal Nagar, Kherwadi etc.
Arrangements were made with stall vendors at Bandra Terminus, so that the kids could be given biscuit and mineral water. Five to six police vans were stationed outside the station to transport them to the Dongri children's home.
But when the train arrived at 9.45 am, we found only 10 passengers in it. We searched all 21 coaches but none of the kids were there."
He added, "Since we had specific information, we did not want to give up. The train guard was questioned, and he revealed that most of the passengers alight from the train before Vapi station, and only a few continue their journey till Borivli and Bandra Terminus."
"I have instructed Inspector Eknath Gaikwad to go to Nandurbar for inquiry and submit a detailed report," he said.
Sub-inspector Yogesh Patil of Nandurbar railway police station admitted that some 500 juveniles were made to alight at Dondaicha station from the train on Thursday night, while a few, who wanted to travel further, were assisted in boarding trains for Surat in Gujarat and Dhuliya, from Dondaicha.
Patil explained they received a message that around 550 juveniles from a local religious school in Akkalkuva in Nandurbar were returning from their hometown after a month-long vacation, and due to a curfew in Nandurbar, their religious teachers sought the police's help to transport the juveniles safely to their school.
"The request was conveyed to both the GRP and RPF and the express train halted at Dondaicha, where the leaders had arranged for two luxury buses, truck and a tempo to transport the kids.
Those who wanted to continue their journey were made to stay back," Patil said. "None of the juveniles were carrying any money with them, nor were they accompanied by any family members; the only luggage they had was some clothes; they were escorted by 10-12 men, who claimed to be their teachers," Patil continued.
Incidentally, the GRP or the RPF did not record the statement of the children, nor did they ask for their contact details.
The men who escorted the kids were not questioned, nor were they asked to furnish identity proof. The official justified the lapse. "Our only concern was to ensure that the juveniles reach their destination (school) safely. Since we did not suspect anything, we assisted the religious teachers."
But the Mumbai GRP is keen to get to the root of the matter; they are waiting for its team to return with a detailed report.
uSandhya Bajaj, former member of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, New Delhi, said, "It is a clear-cut case of violation of child rights.
If the local railway police had assisted in alighting the children, they should have verified the credentials of the men who were escorting them.
The details of the children should have been obtained. A proper report has to be submitted to the local child welfare office.
u"The norms under the Protection of Child Rights Act clearly state that if children are transported in large numbers, they should be divided in groups of 12 to 15, and each group should have an escort.
It is impossible for 12 people to man 550 children. How would the police track the relatives had their been any untoward incident en route?
This is clearly a shoddy work done by the law enforcing agency. A detailed probe should be carried out by the Maharashtra Commission for Protection of Child Rights."
uIPS officer-turned-lawyer YP Singh said, "The railway police should have made proper entries and recorded the statement of those escorting the juveniles.
Also, details of the same should be mentioned in the station diary, and a special report should have been sent to the local police headquarters. The matter should be seriously looked into."
The age group of the juveniles