Usha, 50, who was caught selling a month-old infant to a decoy customer in Patiala on Friday night, was not an easy catch. She was trapped after two failed attempts over a period of two months.
Here's how HT busted the child trafficking racket in coordination with the police and social activist and Patiala lawyer Harmeet Kaur Brar, who was the decoy customer.
Last week of Nov 2013: Brar learns about child trafficking racket in Punjab through a source. She poses as a childless NRI woman and contacts Usha, who introduces herself as Taranpreet. After a couple of phone calls, Usha agrees to meet her. Meanwhile, Brar informs HT and a sting operation is planned.
Dec 3: Brar drives to Amritsar to meet the midwife, who agrees to arrange the child. On reaching Amritsar, Brar is asked to drive to Dehradun, where, Usha says, her partner has the child. She asks for Rs 3 lakh. HT and Brar alert the police in Uttarakhand. It is decided that Brar will collect the child the next day on the pretext of arranging the money. Police officers and two Amritsar residents, Amanjit Sandhu and Romi Mehra, join the operation.
Dec 4: Usha gets suspicious and does not take Brar's calls. The deal is cancelled.
Dec 7: Brar again contacts Usha and expresses her desire to take the child to the US. Usha makes several enquiries to confirm the authenticity of the customer.
Dec 15: Usha wants to be sure and says she would visit Brar's parental house in Patiala. Brar had told her that she was living in Patiala while on vacation from the US.
Dec 16: The police are informed. Police personnel arrange a house, while one of them poses as Brar's brother and sister-in-law. Usha returns convinced.
Dec 16-31: Brar stays in touch with Usha, expressing desperation for a child.
Jan 1, 2014: At 6am, Usha calls Brar to say that she has arranged the child in Ludhiana and will hand him over for Rs 5 lakh. A trap is laid, but Usha calls off the deal as she has got a better price from another party. However, she promises to arrange a child from Muzaffarnagar, where her partner has bought one.
Jan 3 morning: Usha asks Harmeet to drive to Muzaffarnagar "to take delivery" of the male infant and demands Rs 6 lakh. Brar offers to pay Rs 50,000 more if Usha can bring the baby to Patiala. Usha agrees and it's decided that she will hand over the child in the parking space outside Gurdwara Moti Bagh.
Jan 3, 10pm: After a nine-hour drive and dilly-dallying for three hours, Usha brings the infant to the gurdwara parking. Besides Brar, a team from HT and the police in plainclothes await her arrival. As she hands over the child to Brar, the HT team takes photos and the police surround her Tata Indigo taxi and arrest her. The taxi driver is also nabbed. The child is taken to the Rajindra Medical College and Hospital.
HT held back the report on police request to avoid alerting other accused.