The Supreme Court on Tuesday lashed out at the Bihar government for going “soft” on charges of abuse of children at 14 shelter homes in the state and indicated that it may transfer the probe to the CBI.
A bench of Justices Madan B Lokur, Deepak Gupta and S Abdul Nazeer also observed that the state was “very selective” in registering FIRs against the perpetrators, and asked the Bihar government whether these children are not citizens of India.
“Counsel for the petitioner has shown us a chart of the allegations that have been made in respect of shelter homes and the manner in which those allegations have been dealt with by the state police. On going through the chart, as well as hearing the counsel for the State of Bihar, we are of the view that the state police is not doing its job as expected,” the bench noted when told that the police had invoked only less serious charges in FIRs registered in these cases.
Giving vent to its anguish, the bench observed, “Only God can save (children)”. Justice Gupta said, “Every time I read this file, I am hit by the tragedy of the case.” The court was hearing a PIL by Patna resident Nivedita Jha on the alleged abuse of girls at a shelter home in Muzaffarpur. On August 2, the court had taken suo motu cognizance of the incident after it received a letter from Jha.
The Muzaffarpur abuse cases came to light following an audit conducted by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS). The TISS report also referred to alleged abuse at 14 other shelter homes in the state. While the Muzaffarpur case is being probed by the CBI, the rest were being followed up by the state police.
The apex court also sought to know why FIRs had not been lodged under Section 377 (unnatural offences) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) in allegations of sodomy. “What are you doing? This is very shameful. You may have filed a detailed affidavit (in court) but if a child is sodomised, you cannot say that is nothing. How can you do this? This is inhuman,” the bench observed.
Appearing for petitioner Jha, senior advocate Shekhar Naphade and counsel Fauzia Shakil submitted that the police had registered FIRs in incidents concerning only 10 shelter homes. They contended that the accused were booked for lesser offences.
The court ordered, “We direct the public prosecutor for CBI to look into those allegations. Since there are number of such homes with (a) number of allegations, learned counsel appearing on behalf of the CBI may take instructions.”
The counsel appearing for Bihar government contended that that the provisions of Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act had been invoked in the FIRs, but the bench shot back, “If a person is dead and the FIR says it is (a case of) simple hurt, do you think we will accept it?” As the counsel replied that he would ensure that offence under IPC Section 377 was added to the FIR, the bench stated, “We were earlier told that the State will look into the matter with all seriousness, and this is the seriousness you are showing. This is a tragedy.”
The court also expressed dismay at the the fact that no FIR had been lodged regarding alleged financial irregularities at these shelter homes, as pointed out in the TISS report. Although the court initially appeared willing to let the state police rectify their mistakes, it later said it would like the CBI to take it up. As the Bihar government continued to defend its case, the court asked, “Are we doing any favour to these children? Why cannot every shelter home be good…. Are these children not citizens of this country?” Noting that FIRs had not been lodged in all cases, the bench added, “Either the people there are incompetent or they are in cahoots.”
The bench said that as per the report, one of the girls at these shelter homes lost her mental balance since she was not allowed to talk to her parents over phone.