A fact-finding inquiry by the Juvenile Justice Committee of the Jammu and Kashmir High Court found allegations of the detention of children in the wake of the August 5 abrogation of Article 370 to be untrue, the Supreme Court said Friday, adding that it was satisfied with process undertaken by the committee.
Justice N V Ramana, heading a three-judge bench, said the four HC judges of the committee had “personally visited each jail. They spoke to many children also” and reported that “there is nothing of the sort as alleged… that no such instance has taken place”.
The bench, also comprising Justices R Subhash Reddy and B R Gavai, was hearing a petition by child rights activists Enakshi Ganguly and Shanta Sinha, who contended that security forces had detained children in J&K after August 5.
The court said it did not want to sit in review over the exercise undertaken by the four HC judges and disposed of the plea, giving liberty to the petitioners to approach the appropriate forum in case they had any grievance with individual instances.
Initially senior advocate Huzefa Ahmadi, appearing for the petitioners, urged the court to not dispose of the plea and to keep it pending till he could respond to the findings in the report.
The judges said he could peruse the report but added that they had called for it only for their own satisfaction as Ahmadi had raised doubts on the findings of an earlier report submitted by the committee in September and did not want to sit in appeal over it.
“It affects their morale,” said Justice Gavai.
Justice Ramana said the judges can’t be distrusted. “We all went through the reports in detailed manner. If there was anything in it, we ourselves would have done something. If you don’t believe us also we can’t help it,” he said.
Ahmadi replied that he did not mean to say so. Opposing the suggestion to dispose of the plea, he referred to the first report submitted by the committee and said that according to it, the state had admitted that over 80 children had been detained.
The committee, in its first report submitted to the court in October, had said that 144 juveniles between the ages 9 and 17 in conflict with the law were held, mostly in preventive detention, in J&K since August 5. Of these, 142 had been released and only 2 were in juvenile homes, the report said, citing information provided by the police and other state agencies.
On November 5, the court had asked the committee to examine afresh allegations of detention of minors by security forces and submit a report “expeditiously”.
Ahmadi asked how children could be detained on suspicion of stone pelting without even any FIR being filed against them.
Justice Gavai replied, “Are you not aware what children of age 15-16 are capable of? Why amendment to (section) 376 had to be made?”, apparently referring to changes made to the Juvenile Justice Act to try children in the age group 16 – 18 years as adults in cases of heinous offences after preliminary assessment by the Juvenile Justice Board.
The bench said the first report showed that children who were shown as detained were released on the same day and whenever they had to be kept for more than one day, they were shifted to a juvenile home.
“We don’t know what is happening on the ground… Recently, even in Hyderabad, some children who were involved in stone pelting were taken to police station and kept there for some hours… How can it be called detention… Sometimes it is for their own safety,” said Justice Reddy.
On the term ‘detained’, as appearing in the first report, the bench said the statement of the J&K Police which was annexed to the first report must have been drawn up by some clerk and mechanically signed by the senior officer.
Justice Reddy added, “It’s surely not detention…They have loosely used the word.”
Referring to a report in The Washington Post on the alleged detentions, Justice Gavai said, “We have some report in Washington… and fact-finding by our own judges. Which should be given more weightage?”
Attorney General K K Venugopal and Solicitor General Tushar Mehta opposed Ahmadi’s plea to keep the matter pending and said there would be no end to it if the request was allowed.