The Bombay High Court Wednesday asked the state government to immediately suspend Navnath Shinde, the chief executive officer of the Children’s Aid Society that runs the children’s home in Mankhurd, where allegedly a party was hosted on new year’s eve in 2012 and bar dancers were called to perform.
Justice V M Kanade and P D Kode observed that the act on part of the staff of the home, in not reporting the incident to the police, could also attract the provisions of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSOA) and amount to the abetment of the offence. The court said that prima facie, an offence under the Act had been committed by those in-charge of the home.
“This should never happen in any shelter home anywhere. You (state government) should prosecute those who are responsible. Care has to be taken of the children in the shelter home,” Justice Kanade said.
The court was hearing a PIL filed by activist Sangeeta Punekar citing media reports based on the incident. A newspaper report had stated that there was champagne popping, showing of money on bar dancers and alcohol was served at the party on December 31, 2012. Punekar’s PIL had urged the court to direct the police to file an FIR against the organisers of the party that was allegedly held in the boys’ section of the government-run home. Last week, the court was taken aback to learn that 26 mentally challenged girls were also made to attend the party. The court had then directed the Mumbai Police crime branch to conduct an inquiry in the matter.
Punekar’s lawyer Nayana Pardeshi told the court that the findings of the Child Welfare Committee (CWC), in a report on February 26, 2014, were sufficient to disclose the offences on part of the chief officer and the superintendent of the home.
“Thirty employees of the home had complained to its governing council after which the CWC inquired into the matter. After recording their statements and the evidence, the CWC came to the conclusion that such a party was conducted and the chief officer and the superintendent of the home were guilty of gross misconduct,” Pardeshi said.
Assistant government pleader G W Mattos told the court that the crime branch is inquiring into the case and statements of five employees are being recorded so far. Three women of these five, feared reprisal from the chief officer and the superintendent and hence, will be given police protection, he told the court.
Mattos said that so far the inquiry has shown that POCSOA could not be invoked in the case but there were administrative failures. The court, however, said that the POCSOA is an “all comprehensive Act” and includes offences in a shelter home. “Unfortunately the police is not aware of these provisions. They need to be sensitized,” the court said.
The court asked the crime branch to submit its inquiry report in four weeks.