Outrage as 4 culprits nailed by MiD DAY's sting operation walk out paying a meagre fine. Lawyers say sections of law applied by police were weak to begin with.
On a cash bail of Rs 1,500 each, a local court in Ulhasnagar yesterday released all the accused arrested after MiD DAY's expose on the baby-selling racket in the far suburb.
Walking free: The mastermind Vijaya Sonawne
Even as police officials said that they would appeal in the Sessions court soon, the release has drawn outrage from legal experts and commoners. Some lawyers argue that the sections under which the accused were booked were feeble to begin with, for a crime as ghastly as trading a child like a commodity.
The parents of the baby sold, Babli Pradhan and Ramkisan Kanujiya
The four accused -- the racket's mastermind Vijaya Sonawne (44), her associate Ratna Ubale (35), Babli Pradhan (25) and Ramkisan Kanujiya (35), the parents of the child sold to undercover MiD DAY reporters, -- were produced before the eighth court in Ulhasnagar, a day after the Hill Line police arrested them under Sections 317 and 34 (conspiracy) of the Indian Penal Code and Section 23 of the Juvenile Justice Act, 2,000.
Free for now: The four accused in the baby-selling case were granted
bail by a local court in Ulhasnagar yesterday
Said Senior Inspector Narendra Jadhav of Hill Line police station, "We have pleaded to the court to consider the case on social grounds and have prepared all the documents to go for an appeal. The investigating officer has been working with the prosecutor for the revision of the case."
He added that the release of the accused comes even as the recovery of the amount of Rs 2.3 lakh MiD DAY paid to Sonawne to acquire the child is still to be made, and other traded children are yet to be traced.
In that case, why did the police apply the more lenient of sections, which are bailable? "Though the two sections are bailable, they are the most appropriate in such a matter," Jadhav responded.
Sting busts shocking baby-selling racket part 1
Sting busts shocking baby-selling racket part 2
Thane Police Commissioner KP Raghuvanshi said, "We will try to appeal in the higher court. Let me call up the DCP and have a look at the report first." CWC member Sumitra Ashtekar suggested NGOs should come forward and take up the case. She said, "In such cases, CWC is usually the complainant. However, we are already in our extended tenure and cannot take up this matter. In such a situation, if an NGO becomes the complainant, it could positively affect the course of the case."
Minister for Child and Women Development Varsha Gaikwad said, "We have taken all the requisite action against that woman. Following the reports, her quarters in orphanage meant for handicapped children was vacated. Through Child Welfare Committee (CWC), we had even asked them to register an FIR against the accused. Now, with this development with the help of the concerned department we will do whatever we can to deal with the case legally."
Nonetheless, the order has the legal fraternity discussing whether the sections were appropriate. Advocate I P Bagaria said, "The police seem to have deliberately applied a bailable section. The aspect of selling and buying, which is part of this crime, has not been covered at all. They should have also applied Section 369 (kidnapping a child under 10 years) and Section 370 (buying or disposing of any person as a slave). The trial court would then have decided what to do with the accused."
(From left) Advocate I P Bagaria, Advocate Mrunalini Deshmukh,
Criminal lawyer Pradeep Havnur, Advocate Wahab Khan
Criminal lawyer Pradeep Havnur echoed Bagaria's sentiment. "The sections which have been applied are very lenient. Section 317 of the IPC is cognisable and bailable. It should be amended and the offence should be made non-bailable," he said. Advocate Mrunalini Deshmukh, an expert on family law, said, "Although morally I agree with the outrage the order has generated, the Juvenile Justice Act may never have been meant to contemplate a situation in which a child's own parents would want to sell it. I think the sections applied are appropriate. Having said that, this is only the initial state of proceedings. The trial court while taking matters to their logical conclusion may award greater punishment to the accused." Advocate Wahab Khan added, "The way the persons have been let off is against the spirit of the enactment under which they are charged."
It is very sad that they have been granted bail. I am pretty sure that with the light punishment they have received, they will continue with their evil ways.
Milli Shetty, social activist
It is a deplorable state of affairs when human life is valued in money. Granting bail to the accused has brought to light the lacunae that exist in the legal system -- you can get away even by committing a horrid crime. It's only sending a wrong signal to those who indulge in human trafficking.
Janki Pandya, student
Bail is given if the court feels that the accused will not tamper with evidence or run away from the city. In this case the judge probably feels that the accused won't influence proceedings. But the matter is grave. The focus should be on the orphanage. There is clearly a lack of accountability at the shelter, which must be thoroughly investigated, and the enforcement agencies must set an example so that this act is not repeated again.
Human trafficking and violation of children's rights are upsetting. Now that the judiciary has granted bail to the accused, the perpetrators and beneficiaries of this heinous crime would not desist. It is necessary at all levels to implement policies that this never occurs again.
Natasha Sehgal, housewife
(As told to Ashwin D'Silva)