It started with much fanfare, and the Chief Justice of India’s blessings, but the creche in the Supreme Court seems to have hardly any takers, with only one child left in the daycare centre.
Since its inauguration nine months ago, only three infants have used the facility. In June, that number came down to just one child — being taken care of by four trained staffers.
Recently, a Supreme Court bench took up issues affecting the smooth functioning of the creche, after a woman lawyer moved a petition citing various deficiencies in the childcare facility.
A bench of Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice P C Pant asked the Supreme Court to delve into the problems and take decisions for better administration of the creche. “There is only one child now… why don’t you examine the issues and do something?” the bench recently asked senior advocate Sidharth Luthra, who was representing the Supreme Court in the matter.
The bench also asked the apex court and its administration to make a note of the grievances raised by senior lawyer Indira Jaising, who appeared for the petitioner, lawyer Anindita Pujari. During the hearing, Jaising had pointed out that an “ad hoc” approach defeats the purpose of having such a facility.
Jaising also questioned the levy of a fee “despite the Supreme Court being a rich institution which, being a public institution, had a constitutional obligation to provide a creche facility free of cost”.
She said that a monthly charge of Rs 5,000, apart from an admission fee of Rs 6,000 and Rs 5,000 towards refundable security deposit, was exorbitant, and added that if the real purpose of the creche was to help working lawyers, then the apex court and lawyers’ bar association should fund the facility.
“There is no food for the children… no outdoor facility or a playground. I had a joint inspection with Mr Luthra and noticed there is no ventilation in the two rooms in the creche,” Jaising said.
Arguing that fixing the age for children between 6 months and 2 years was unreasonable, the senior lawyer said that if the provision for a daycare centre was to be made effective, it had to cater to the needs of children up to 6 years.
Luthra told the bench that he would speak to the court registry to ensure that amenities are ramped up, besides deliberating on other norms. “You see what you can do,” the bench told Luthra, giving him two weeks. The bench will hear the matter next on September 2.
Meanwhile, in its counter-affidavit to the petition, the Supreme Court administration justified all regulations that were laid down for the creche, asserting that there is no law which makes it obligatory for the Supreme Court to provide a childcare facility without recovering the recurring cost.
The affidavit also asked why it should be a matter of concern for anybody else that the salaries of some of the creche staffers are less than the the minimum wage for unskilled workers in Delhi, when the staff themselves did not have any issue with their terms of employment.