One of the longest-serving inmates who spent 54 months in the Dongri juvenile home was granted bail by the Bombay High Court recently. Unlike most inmates at a juvenile home, who are released, rehabilitated or sent to a special home for a term not more than three years, the youth, now 21 years, has been under detention in a murder case since March 2016.
The youth lived with his family in Mumbai’s Wadala TT area in March 2016 when he was alleged to have got embroiled in a gang war that lead to the death of one person. An FIR under sections including 302 (murder) of the Indian Penal Code was filed and the youth, then just 17 years old, was apprehended along with others, including some adults. Since he was a minor at that time of the offence, he was brought into the juvenile justice system.
While a child in conflict with law can be awarded a maximum term of three years to be spent in a special home, the amendment to the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act in 2015 following the December 16, 2012, ‘Nirbhaya’ case made provisions for a juvenile between the age of 16 and 18 years to be tried as an adult if booked for a heinous offence.
JJ Act amendment & what it says
The primary legislation in the country on children, the Juveniles Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act was amended in 2015 to make separate provisions for children in conflict with law between the age group of 16 and 18 years to be tried as adults in cases of heinous offences. Legal and child rights experts say while rehabilitation remains an important part of juvenile justice, sentencing under the new Act has been made complicated leading to delays.
Under the new Act, the Juvenile Justice Board had decided to try the youth as an adult and the case was transferred to the children’s court. In 2017, the children’s court had refused to grant him bail after which an appeal was filed before the Bombay High Court.
Justice C V Bhadang took into account a report by the probation officer of the juvenile home which showed his efforts towards “behavioural change and rehabilitation”.
“The report indicates that the applicant has undergone counselling sessions on a regular basis from August 2016 and has established his image as a trusted child among the staff at the observation home. He leads kitchen, gardening work, manages and works along with fellow inmates and has shown good leadership skills,” the court said referring to the report.
Volunteers of NGO Aashiyana, working at the home with juveniles, also submitted that the youth was willing to enrol in a re-entry programme and said they will support him in finding employment. The HC has placed him under the supervision of the NGO and the probation officer with directions to submit reports every three months regarding his progress and rehabilitation to the children’s court.
Maharukh Adenwalla, who represented the youth, in the court said the only exception for him to be not granted bail as per the Act is if there is any likelihood of danger to his life or threat to prosecution witnesses, neither of which is the case since his family has shifted to another location.
“He saw many others who had committed similar or more heinous offences being granted bail or rehabilitated and our biggest challenge was to ensure that the long stint at the home did not take a mental toll on him. He had done all the vocational courses offered at the home and it was a challenge to keep him engaged with new activities,” Sachi Maniar, director of NGO Aashiyana said.
She said, his immediate concern is to find a job and adjust with his family, including of his alcoholic father, mother and two sisters, who have relocated to a distant suburb.
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