Updated: July 28, 2021 3:49:43 am
THE SUPREME Court on Tuesday pulled up the West Bengal government over its tally of children who had been orphaned in the state after March 2020 during the Covid-19 pandemic and said it is “not prepared to believe” the figure.
A bench of Justices L Nageswara Rao and Aniruddha Bose, dealing with a suo motu case relating to the welfare of children in protection homes amid the pandemic, also reminded the state’s counsel that it is not a political issue but one of children’s welfare.
“Can we record it then? We’ll record and ask the Secretary to appear. You are so steadfast in saying only 27 orphans are there. Look at other states. It’s not like your state had Covid at all. We are not prepared to believe this at all,” the bench told the state’s counsel after perusing the figures uploaded by the state on the National Commission for Protection of Children’s Rights (NCPCR) portal ‘Bal Swaraj’.
Additional Solicitor General K M Nataraj, appearing for the Commission, submitted to the bench that figures presented by some of the states such as West Bengal, Punjab and the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir appeared unrealistic.
The West Bengal counsel disputed this and said he did understand on what basis the Commission is saying so. Justice Rao responded, “You are saying that 24 children have only been orphaned in the state”, and asked if the court should record this and order an investigation.
The state’s counsel said the figure is 27 now and that the process of collecting and updating the data on orphans “is an ongoing process”.
“Please don’t make such irresponsible statements here. Do you understand the urgency of the situation here? Orphans can’t be asked to fend for themselves…,” the bench said, adding that it will ask the Secretary to file an affidavit on the steps taken.
“But don’t take such stand that on what basis NCPCR is making statements. It’s not a political issue, its about welfare of children. It is a collaborative affair,” the court cautioned the state’s counsel. “As of now we are only asking for affidavit on correct statistics but if your stand continues then we may have to order any other agency to look into it.”
Although the counsel said that only data of children whose parents had died of Covid had been uploaded, the court said its order was clear for details of all children orphaned after March 31, 2020 – and not just of those whose parents had died of the virus.