Two city-based doctors, operating from their clinics in Kandivli and Dharavi, have been arrested for running a baby-selling racket for several years; the duo would send pictures of the ‘products’ via Whatsapp to the buyers
More than two years after mid-day blew the lid off a baby-selling racket in the city, wherein one could buy an infant like a commodity for Rs 2-3 lakh, the Ulhasnagar police have nabbed two city doctors and one of the kingpins of the racket.
The arrests took place just two days after this newspaper’s report on December 18 that one of the key operators of the racket, Ratna Ubale, had resurfaced and had planned to sell a baby girl for Rs 50,000.
Despite a tip-off from an NGO, one of the alleged baby sellers had managed to give the cops the slip, but the couple from whom the baby was to be purchased — Sunita and Mukesh Lahore — had been arrested the day after the report.
On December 20, the Ulhasnagar police arrested Dr Manlik Joshi of Joshi Nursing Home in Dharavi, Dr Digna Sharma of Sai Clinic in Kandivli’s Charkop area, and her husband Ajay and booked them under Section 370 (buying or disposing of any person as slave) and 34 (Common intention) of the Indian Penal Code. Another Thane-based doctor is also under the scanner. The accused were produced before the magistrate court and have been remanded in police custody till December 26. Investigation has revealed that the accused have been involved in the commodification of babies for years and would send prospective adopters images via Whatsapp and even let them inspect the babies like products before settling on the one they wanted. The cost for the sellers’ service seems to have doubled since 2012, with the babies now selling for Rs 4-6 lakh.
An official from the Central police station in Ulhasnagar, said that Dr Digna Sharma’s husband, Ajay, is the ringleader who used to run the racket in connivance with doctors, including his wife. Ajay used to look for couples who were seeking babies for immediate adoption. Since the legal adoption process is tedious and lengthy, couples would be swayed by Ajay’s offer of selling them a baby, with their name on the birth certificates, which would make it seem like an adoption. Once a couple finalised the deal, Ajay would approach Ratna Ubale and her group, who would arrange for a baby.
Behind bars: Ajay and Dr Digna Sharma and (below) Dr Manlik Joshi. Officials say the doctors are not cooperating, forcing cops to try and retrieve data from their phones and computers
During our sting operation in 2012, we had learnt that Ubale and the other women in her network used to keep an eye on couples going to government hospitals for abortion, who could be willing to give away their infants. They would convince the couples to make some money by giving birth and selling the child instead of getting the foetus aborted.
After these ‘babies-for-sale’ were born, Ajay and his wife would keep them at Joshi Nursing Home in Dharavi. “The group would send photographs of the babies to the couple on Whatsapp and, if they liked what they saw, the babies were shown to them at Joshi Nursing Home in Dharavi,” an officer from Central police station said.
Officials have also found out that Ajay, with the help of his wife and another doctor in Thane, helped the couple get the birth certificate and medical papers of the newborn. On the night of December 16, the police had found two more babies admitted in the clinic, not registered on the clinic’s record, who are now untraceable.
“The doctors are adamant and they are tough nuts to crack. Preliminary investigations indicate that they have been doing this for several years. We believe the network has sold many babies in this manner,” said Inspector Pandhare from Central police station. “Since the accused are not co-operating, we are seeking the help of experts to retrieve data from their cellphones, laptops and office computers,” he added.
Rs 6 Lakh The amount that the doctors charged a couple wishing to buy a baby
Rs 2 Lakh Amount paid to the middlemen, who sourced the child
Rs 1 Lakh The amount paid to the parents of the child
Dividing the booty
According to the police, Ajay would take R4-6 lakh from the adoptive couple, keep half for himself and the doctors and give Rs 2-3 lakh to Ubale and her associates. Ubale would keep R1.5-2 lakh and give R50,000- R1 lakh to the parents of the baby that was sold.