While the debate over releasing juveniles in cases of serious crimes rages on, a quandary, similar to what New Delhi is facing right now, will loom large in Maharashtra when two juveniles convicted in the Shakti Mills gangrape case would be released in 2017, alongside overlapping of laws governing juvenile delinquents that has led to confusion.
Currently, there are two laws—the Juvenile Justice Act, amended in 2006, and the Bombay Borstal School (BBS) Act of 1920—that overlap when it comes to deciding sentences for offenders between 16 and 18 years of age. This has led to confusion in cases such as the Shakti Mill gangrape case, where two juvenile offenders were sent to the Nashik Borstal School by the Juvenile Justice Board in 2014.
Academicians, however, claim that the duo, like others in that age group, should have been sent to either of the special homes—the one in Matunga, Mumbai or the one in Pune—as against the borstal school.
Explaining their objection, Dr Asha Mukundan, a professor at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), who works closely with child rights, said that the Children’s Act that predated the Juvenile Justice Act (JJA), 2000, had set the age limit for boys to be tried as juveniles as 16, after which they were sent to the borstal school under the Borstal School Act of 1920.
In 2000, when the JJ Act was passed to replace the Children’s Act, the age limit was extended to 18. However, the Borstal School Act was not amended, keeping its validity for offenders in the 16-21 age group. “The BS Act was not amended after the JJ act was passed, leading to overlapping of the two years,” Mukundan said.
”As a result, for offenders between 16 and 18 years, both the JJ Act and BS Act, were now applicable. However, since as per JJ Act, a child cannot be sent to a prison, and a borstal school is an extension of the prison, the Shakti Mills duo should have been sent to the Special Home and not the borstal school especially since the order was passed under the JJ Act,” Mukundan told The Indian Express.
Opinion is mixed when it comes to the facilities at the borstal school in Nashik, the state’s only one. An academician said that ‘the golden era’ of borstal school has ended, and no technical training staff was hired after the first batch of staff retired. “In the 1990s, there were hardly any teachers,” the academician said. A top prison official admitted that “many people retired in the past decade and we are trying to recruit educators to impart skills.”
Other jail administrators and NGOs working with the prison system however believe that the concept of a borstal school is an effective way of ensuring that youngsters who fall prey to the law can be rehabilitated. The Nashik Borstal school—one of the nine borstal schools in the country—with a capacity of 60 houses 25 juveniles currently. At one point, the staff at the school was more than the students, an official said.
A prison official privy to the Nashik borstal school said that currently, there is one teacher and three house masters for for 25 children.
“We just completed computer basics course. The next course is in radio repairing followed by gas cylinder tap seal-making,” the official said. He added that these courses were being done with the help of a private technical education school.
He added that of the 25 juveniles there, six are in Std X, three are in Std VII and 16 are being given basic literacy. They are educated at the institute and for exams they are either sent to a school or through the open university. The official added that the huge campus in the Gole Nagar area of Nashik includes a basketball court, a carom board and ‘lots of greenery’.
Additional director general of police (Legal and Technical), Meeran Borwankar, who has worked closely with the prison system, said that the facilities at the borstal school have good basic education and vocational training. “The enthusiasm of the in charge at the borstal school also makes a difference,” Borwankar told The Indian Express.
An NGO official working with the borstal system said that spending time at the borstal school – unlike a prison – will not be considered as a disqualification. “For example, in certain government jobs or politics a specific time spent behind bars disqualifies you from applying. This is not the case with a borstal prison as part of its priority on rehabilitating inmates,” the official said, calling the BS Act a “reformative piece of legislation”, which is at present being under-utilised.