By Subrata Nagchoudhury
KOLKATA, March 7 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Police in eastern India are investigating two more senior members of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ruling party as a probe into politicians' involvement in the trafficking and selling of children for adoption widened on Tuesday.
West Bengal state police said they planned to question two senior lawmakers of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) following the arrest of a BJP party member on Feb. 28.
Juhi Chowdhury, a leader in the BJP women's wing, is being held on charges relating to the trafficking of at least 17 children from state-funded orphanages and shelters in Jalpaiguri district who were sold to couples in India and abroad.
Investigating officers said Chowdhury had met senior ministers, politicians and government officials to get licenses and grants required to run the child care homes and shelters.
Chowdhury denies the charges.
Six other people arrested include an orphanage owner, two government child protection officers, a member of the state-appointed child welfare committee and a doctor, police said.
"The arrested people in the child trafficking case have named influential people and we have recovered supporting and corroborative evidence," said Rajesh Kumar, Additional Director-General of Police in West Bengal's Criminal Investigation Department (CID).
Chowdhury says the move is politically motivated. The BJP has suspended Chowdhury from the party.
Kumar said the CID was an independent agency acting on the basis of evidence, not politics.
More than 40 percent of human trafficking cases in India in 2015 involved children being bought, sold and exploited as modern-day slaves, according to latest government crime data.
There has been a recent spate of reports of the trafficking of infants and children for adoption through charity-run child homes and private hospitals.
On Tuesday, police in Mumbai charged six people with selling babies to childless couples across India after smashing a trafficking scam.
In West Bengal, police accused Chowdhury of having a network of contacts running orphanages and shelters in Jalpaiguri district where they identified children for illegal adoption.
The homes used forged documents, fake stamps and birth certificates to sell children, for 100,000-200,000 rupees ($1,500 to $3,000) each, police said.
Police said over six months they had found 17 cases of trafficked children aged between one and 14 years old and investigations are continuing. (Reporting by Subrata Nagchoudhury. Writing by Nita Bhalla @nitabhalla. Editing by Ros Russell. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)