The Lok Sabha on Thursday passed the Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill, 2018 moved by Union Minister for Women and Child Development Maneka Gandhi.

The legislation aims to prevent trafficking of persons, especially women and children. It seeks to provide care, protection and rehabilitation to the victims of trafficking, to prosecute offenders, and to create an environment conducive to the victims, The Hindu reported.

The legislation proposes to create institutional mechanisms at the district, state and central levels. It calls for punishment ranging from 10 years of rigorous imprisonment and a fine not less than Rs 1 lakh. The legislation also covers forms of trafficking such as forced labour and begging.

Gandhi assured that she would incorporate in the rules any lacunae that the members have pointed out. “The bill is long overdue. The law is victim-centric and [the] conviction rate will hopefully improve after the bill is enacted,” PTI quoted Gandhi as saying.

“How can we remain silent while women and children are sold like goods?” Gandhi had asked earlier on Thursday when the bill was taken up for discussion. The minister provided data on trafficking incidents in the country and said that the present laws to combat trafficking have many loopholes. Gandhi added that the new law will allow police personnel to begin rescue operations whenever they get information about trafficking.

However, Congress MP from Thiruvanathapuram Shashi Tharoor called the bill “regressive and paternalistic”. He said the bill does not make a distinction between victims of human trafficking and migrants who have been smuggled. “The bill must also differentiate between those who are trafficked into sex work, and adult, consenting women who have entered sex work,” Tharoor said.

Earlier, Congress’ Leader in the Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge criticised the move to make Justice AK Goel the National Green Tribunal’s chairperson. Goel was part of the Supreme Court bench whose ruling in March diluted the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.

Legislators of the Congress and the Trinamool Congress also quarrelled in the Lok Sabha over holding regular meetings of a coordination committee on district development in West Bengal, PTI reported. Mushidabad Congress MP Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury claimed that there was “no democracy” in West Bengal as no meeting of the committee had been held in six years. The minister made the remarks while Union Rural Development Minister Narendra Singh Tomar was responding to a question on open defecation.

Delhi BJP MP Mahesh Girri claimed that the Aam Aadmi Party government in the state was trying to cover up the deaths of three girls due to starvation. He alleged that the children’s family did not receive ration supplies properly and the girls were not treated well at mohalla clinics.

Rajya Sabha proceedings

All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam MP Vijayakumar criticised the Centre in the Rajya Sabha during Zero Hour over the granting the Institution of Eminence tag to the Jio Institute, which is yet to be set up, The Hindu reported.

In response, Union Human Resource Development Minister Prakash Javadekar said no such status had been granted to the university. He added that only a letter of intent had been issued to the institute. However, Vijayakumar wanted to know if the government will issue a white paper on the selection of institutes.

Communist Party of India MP D Raja asked if the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras and the Jawaharlal Nehru University had been considered for the tag. “The decision was taken by the Gopalaswami Committee,” Javadekar responded. “We decided to provide Rs 1,000 crore funding since none of the Indian universities made it to the list of top 100 world universities. We are supporting IIT Madras too.”

Thereafter, the Rajya Sabha was adjourned for lunch and will resume at 2 pm.

Some other matters raised during Zero Hour proceedings included the plight of tea garden workers in West Bengal, coastal fishing zone management, reopening a firm in Bihar that was closed citing environmental concerns, and adulteration in food products. Congress MP Rajeev Gowda mentioned the nationwide transporters’ strike, which he said was affecting other industries.