New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday expressed serious concern over recent cases of rape and sexual abuse of women at shelter homes in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh and asked when these horrific incidents would stop.
The apex court's observation came while hearing a matter relating to sexual abuse of children at orphanages. "Tell us what is this happening?," a bench of justices Madan B Lokur, S Abdul Nazeer and Deepak Gupta said while referring to the recent incident at Pratapgarh in Uttar Pradesh where 26 women have been reported to be missing from shelter homes.
"Yesterday, I read so many women have been raped in Pratapgarh. How will these things stop," Justice Lokur asked, adding "When it is going to stop?"
Besides Pratapgarh, incidents of rape and sexual abuse of women and girls at shelter homes run by NGOs have also surfaced recently in Muzaffarpur in Bihar and Deoria in Uttar Pradesh.
Advocate Aparna Bhat, assisting the court as an amicus curiae in the matter, said that the Centre was supposed to come out with a report on list of child care institutions (CCIs) in the country as well as status of their social audit.
"We cannot do everything unless the government of India appears," the bench observed while questioning as to why the counsel for the Centre has not appeared in the matter.
Later, advocates on behalf of the Centre, the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Ministry of Women and Child Development appeared before the court.
The bench took exception as to why lawyers were appearing for different ministries and observed that there were so many ministries but that does not mean that separate lawyers would appear for them. "Only the Ministry of Women and Child Development is required in this case," the bench said.
The amicus told the bench that the apex court in its last year verdict had asked the Centre to get social audit of all such CCIs conducted through the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR).
"It appears that the NCPCR has started the exercise but some states are refusing to cooperate with the NCPCR," the amicus told the bench, adding, that Bihar and Uttar Pradesh were among the states which have not cooperated in the exercise.
"Did they (NCPCR) conducted any social audit in Pratapgarh and Deoria," the bench asked.
The counsel representing the NCPCR said that the commission was not allowed to conduct social audits in six states — Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Tripura and Mizoram.
"The fact that they are not allowing NCPCR to do social audit shows that there is something to hide," the amicus said, adding that the institution in Uttar Pradesh, where incident of sexual abuse and rapes has surfaced recently, was de-registered way back in November last year but it was still operational.
The amicus said that a management information software (MIS) was supposed to be developed where complete database of children along with the facilities provided to them at CCIs was required to be updated but the Centre has not filed the details of what was going on.
The NCPCR's counsel said that a "rapid" social audit of CCIs and shelter homes was going on and it has already been done in around 3,000 such homes.
"What rapid? You (NCPCR) do not know what is going on? If something, like rape, happens in these 3,000 institutions, will you be responsible for it," the bench asked.
"We would like to make it very clear that number of social audits is not important. What is more important is the quality of these social audits," the bench said.
The counsel representing the Centre said they would furnish all the information as directed by the court within a week. He said that regarding CCIs data, some states, including Bihar and Telangana, and union territory of Puducherry are yet to provide the details to the Centre.
However, the lawyers appearing for some of these states said that they have given the details to the Centre.
The bench directed the MWCD to place before it the data they have received from the states including as to how the funds were being utilised, how performance audit was done and on MIS also.
It asked the ministry to give data of CCIs including the facilities provided to children, like health, education, nutrition, living there.
The court has posted the matter for hearing on August 21.
On May 5 last year, the apex court had passed a slew of directions including setting up of a data base of children living in orphanages and child care institutions to ensure their safety and welfare.
It had directed the Centre, state governments and union territories to complete the registration of all child care institutions by the year-end.