West Bengal

Babies for sale

Print edition : February 03, 2017

The Sohan Nursing Home and Poly Clinic in Baduria, around 65 km from Kolkata, which was sealed after the West Bengal Police busted a baby-smuggling racket. Photo: AFP

AN inter-State baby-trafficking racket recently busted by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), West Bengal, has brought to the fore a shocking and sinister nexus between certain private nursing homes, doctors and local non-governmental organisations (NGOs). Acting on a tip-off in the last week of November, the police rescued three babies from a nursing home in Baduria in North 24 Paraganas district, which led to the unravelling of one of the biggest and most well-entrenched infant-smuggling networks in recent times.

“After a child was born, the parents of the child would be told that their baby was either dead or stillborn. The newborn would then be put in a biscuit carton and trafficked to other places,” CID officials said at a press conference in Kolkata. Before being sold, the babies would be kept in the premises of an NGO that had its network in Delhi too. “While a male newborn was sold for Rs.2 lakh, a female baby was sold for Rs.1 lakh,” said the CID officials. The racket has apparently been in existence for the past two years, and as many as 30 babies have been trafficked to other States, and even other countries.

The trafficking gang would operate through a network of some of the ayahs of the nursing homes, middlemen, NGO operators, owners of old-age homes and adoption agencies, and a few doctors. Its main targets were poor people who could not afford to go to better establishments to deliver children. After news of the racket surfaced, several families approached the police in the hope that their lost babies could be recovered.

“We have arrested around 21 people, including three doctors. Thirteen babies were recovered and two dead bodies of babies were found. We are examining every possible angle and trying to develop the case further. It is a terrible crime to smuggle newborn babies after telling the parents that they have died and then sell them. Some of the babies died and were buried in the compound of an NGO. The babies were kept in biscuit cartons. The accused have no respect for human life. For them these babies are just commodities,” Rajesh Kumar, Additional Director General of Police (ADGP) in charge of CID, West Bengal, told Frontline. Among those arrested were also two court officials accused of forging adoption papers.

Of the 13 babies rescued, 10 were found in a home for the elderly and mentally ill called Purbasha in Thakurpukur in South 24 Paraganas district. The owner of the home, Reena Banerjee, was arrested along with Bimal Adhikari, who not only was a member of the establishment that ran the home but also personally oversaw the baby-smuggling operations. Adhikari, one of the key accused in the case, also has a licence to run a specialised adoption agency, which was issued by the State government’s Department of Women and Child Development. His organisation, Joka Millennium Adoption Old Age Home and Rehabilitation Centre, is one of the few establishments in the State that has the licence to house 20 children.

The newborns rescued from Purbasha were kept in unhygienic surroundings, without proper food or facilities, and at the time of rescue they were extremely weak. Rupa Kapoor, member of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), who had come down to Kolkata to investigate the matter, was appalled by the sight that greeted her. “It was like a filthy godown where the children were kept temporarily before being sold off. The milk that was given to them was past the expiry date and the bottles did not even have lids. It is a wonder that the babies survived,” she told Frontline. Rupa Kapoor also said that all the babies were “dark complexioned. I realised that either they could not be sold or they were being kept there to be killed. This extreme cruelty of killing a child when not being able to sell her was what shocked me the most.” All 13 babies were reportedly doing fine after undergoing treatment.

During the course of the investigation, the CID discovered skeletons of two babies buried in the premises of an NGO called Sujit Dutta Memorial Welfare Trust in Machlandapur in North 24 Paraganas. Behind the facade of an educational institute for poor children, the NGO functioned as an illegal abortion centre and a link between nursing homes and buyers of infants. Bimal Adhikari was one of the main coordinators between the NGO and some of the nursing homes in the region.

“I got to know from local villagers that everybody knew what was going on inside the Machlandapur NGO. Even the goings-on in Sohan Nursing Home in Baduria (from where three babies were recovered) was known to all the local people. The nursing home is on the main road and it is impossible to smuggle out babies in biscuit cartons without any involvement at the local level,” Rupa Kapoor said. According to her, while the legally operating NGOs and nursing homes are being regularly monitored by the administration and police authorities, the new ones that have mushroomed are not being observed properly. “Kudos to the CID of West Bengal for busting the racket, but I feel this is just the tip of the iceberg. There will have to be more preventive action rather than reaction after complaint,” she added.

The NCPCR has submitted its report to the Ministry of Child Development in which it has stressed the need for more stringent monitoring and evaluation of organisations, continuous verification of NGOs, and background checks of all people working in them.

Three doctors, Santosh Kumar Samanta, Nityananda Biswas and Dilip Ghosh, have been arrested in connection with the baby-smuggling racket. Ghosh, who was formerly with the State-run RG Kar Medical College and Hospital, forayed into politics recently, contesting the 2015 civic polls in Bidhannagar municipality on the Bharatiya Janata Party ticket.

Rajesh Kumar said that the CID was working on ascertaining the extent and spread of this racket. “So far we have pinpointed three nursing homes and a few NGOs. We are trying to collect more evidence. This kind of crime is going on in several parts of the country and is not restricted to West Bengal, but the State government has been proactive to put an end to this,” he said.

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has set up a “probe committee” on baby trafficking, headed by Parliamentary Affairs Minister Partha Chatterjee. Members of the committee include Communist Party of India (Marxist) legislator Sujan Chakraborty, Congress member of the Legislative Assembly and Leader of the Opposition Abdul Mannan, Chief Secretary Basudeb Banerjee, Home Secretary Moloy De, Director General of Police Surajit Kar Purakayastha and Kolkata Police Commissioner Rajiv Kumar.

“What is happening is worrying… that is why we have set up a high-powered committee which will submit reports to me every month,” Mamata Banerjee announced in the Assembly.

Sujan Chakraborty, however, is sceptical of the efficacy of such a committee. “What needs to be addressed is the utter mismanagement in keeping a check on such crimes. The child welfare committees of West Bengal are being politically run. Besides, we are not really sure what this so-called probe committee is about. Is it to probe the racket? Is it to prevent such crimes, or is it meant to make suggestions for the future? Nothing is clear. We have not even received any formal letter. What needs to be done immediately is to spread awareness on the issue,” Chakraborty told Frontline.

Suhrid Sankar Chattopadhyay