The probe into the sale of babies at the Ranchi branch of Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity, or MoC, could be widened to cover other shelters run by the Kolkata-headquartered charity and other groups, a senior police officer in Jharkhand told NDTV after a woman worker and a nun at the Ranchi shelter were arrested.
A nun and an employee of Nirmal Hriday were arrested on Thursday for allegedly selling infants for adoption. The police have come across four instances at the shelter home where infants were sold for about Rs 1.2 lakh each but say there could be more.
"If this was a lucrative trade, there is reason to believe other centres operated by MoC or other shelter homes also may be indulging in such activities," senior police officer RK Mallick told NDTV. He expected more cases to come to light in the near future.
This isn't the first time that the Ranchi branch of Missionaries of Charity has faced such an allegation, Dr OP Singh, who took over as the head of the child welfare committee in 2013. He recalls going to the MoC-run shelter in 2014 to probe a complaint of child trafficking.
"But the shelter's manager created such a ruckus... shut the doors on me to block the investigation," Dr Singh told NDTV. He complained to the social welfare and child development department but nobody was interested to go into the allegations. When he persisted, Dr Singh said he was edged out of the post and a probe reportedly conducted that found nothing wrong.
The scandal blew up four years later after the local child welfare authorities this week informed the police about a new-born missing from the home that was meant to care for unwed pregnant women and mothers in distress.
Mr Mallick said the state's Child Welfare Committee had initially received a complaint about one case after an infant brought to the home by a family. The family later changed their mind and went back. But they weren't given the baby. It turned out that the baby had been sold without the requisite paperwork.
As the welfare committee dug deeper, they found at least four cases where newborns were given for adoption without documentation.
"By this trend, it seems the case will widen," Mr Mallick said.
As a precaution, 13 girls living in Nirmal Hriday and 22 children in a shelter for children, Shishu Niketan, which is run by the same charity, have been moved to a new accommodation on Friday.
Stunned at the child trafficking racket from the Ranchi branch, Chief Minister Raghubar Das later ordered a statewide probe. A government statement said Mr Das had asked his office to figure how the investigation can be conducted to check if babies were being sold in homes run by other non-profits as well.
In Mother House in Kolkata, the headquarters of the Missionaries of Charity, there has been shock and disbelief.
In a formal statement, Sunita Kumar, the spokesperson of the charity founded by Mother Teresa said: "We can't believe a worker has done this... Also for a sister to admit that she has allowed her (staffer) to do this... it is not possible. But if it has happened, we must look into it".