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Don't Delay Identification & Rehabilitation Of Street Children, Supreme Court Directs States

Sohini Chowdhury
17 Jan 2022 4:04 PM GMT
Dont Delay Identification & Rehabilitation Of Street Children, Supreme Court Directs States
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On Monday, the Supreme Court asked the States to complete the identification and rehabilitation process of the Children in Street Situations ("CiSS") at the earliest. Looking at the slow progress in the identification process, the Apex Court directed all the District Magistrates to involve Special Juvenile Police Units, District Legal Service Authorities and voluntary...

On Monday, the Supreme Court asked the States to complete the identification and rehabilitation process of the Children in Street Situations ("CiSS") at the earliest. Looking at the slow progress in the identification process, the Apex Court directed all the District Magistrates to involve Special Juvenile Police Units, District Legal Service Authorities and voluntary organisations in identification of the CiSS.

The Court also directed the states to frame a policy for rehabilitation of street children, after their identification, with the guidance of the NCPCR.

The Court ordered :

"...we direct all the DMs to involve the SJPUs, DLSA and voluntary organisations in identification of CiSS without any further delay. The DMs are also directed to upload the information at all stages on the Bal Swaraj (CiSS) web-portal...

Without any delay, the State Govts, with the guidance of NCPCR shall formulate a policy for rehabilitation after they have been identified and rescued from the streets. In the status report to be filed by the State Govts./UTs in a period of three weeks from today, steps taken in this regard shall also be mentioned.....

We direct the State Govts. to instruct all the concerned authorities not to delay the identification and rehabilitation of CiSS"

On perusal of the latest affidavit filed by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights ("NCPCR") and upon hearing the Counsels for the States, a Bench comprising Justices L. Nageswara Rao and B.V. Nagarathna observed that States had failed to upload the requisite information on the Bal Swaraj ("CiSS") portal in compliance with the directions in the orders passed by the Apex Court on previous occasions. In view of the same, the Bench asked the State Governments to direct the District Magistrates ("DMs") to upload the information at all stages on the said web-portal.

Advocate, Ms. Swarupama Chaturvedi appearing on behalf of NCPCR placed its affidavit on record in compliance with the order of the Supreme Court dated 13.12.2021. She submitted that NCPCR had sent letters to the Principal Secretaries of all the States inviting them to participate in the meetings conducted by it on 5th, 6th and 7th of January, 2022. The Bench was apprised that twenty-three (23) States had participated in the said meeting.

The Bench enquired, "Which are the states which did not participate in the meeting?"

Ms. Chaturvedi sought time to address the query posed by the Court. However, she pointed out that the States that have participated in the meeting have also not shown much improvement in the process of identification and rehabilitation. It was urged that the States should not only participate, but ensure that steps are taken to address the issue at hand. It was highlighted that the lack of data is acting as an impediment for the Commission in taking further steps.

"States who have participated have not shown very big improvement that they are collecting data or even what data they have collected they are taking steps in rehabilitation. One is that everybody has to participate in the discussions. When they are participating they should also take substantial steps in identifying and then rehabilitation. What we have analysed is that every state has certain policy but only because there is no data available that is what the problem is. Since the data received is very less, we are still stuck at that point."

Additional Solicitor General, Mr. K.M. Nataraj appearing on behalf of NCPCR emphasised on three aspects of the issue that he wanted to bring to the Court's notice. He informed the Court that the States were not uploading information on the Bal Swaraj-CiSS web-portal. He contended that only 9000 children have been identified as per data uploaded in the portal, when he was certain that the actual numbers would be more than 10 lakhs. It was also pointed out that qua the two lakh children identified in West Bengal and Maharashtra by an NGO, West Bengal has done a good job in identifying these children, whereas the same cannot be said about Maharashtra. Mr. Nataraj further apprised the Court that NCPCR were in the process of formulating a model policy in this regard that could be adopted by the States.

"Three things I would like to point out on behalf of NCPCR.

[...]

One more important aspect is that in the table the response of the States uploaded is 9000. Very very surprising. The number would be more than 10 lakhs. No state is uploading into the system, Bal Swaraj portal. Kindly see the table. Unless we carry forward this particular aspect we cannot achieve anything.

I pointed out when model survey was conducted by one of the NGO, they identified about 2 lakhs children in a few cities and in two states i.e. West Bengal and Maharashtra. Taking that as a basis I pointed out that the number would go about more than 10 lakhs at least.

Second part is in respect of those 2 lakh children who have been identified by an NGO, there is a substantial improvement by the West Bengal Government. They have done a good job, they have identified those children, but Maharashtra has not done anything.

Third I would like to point out that on previous occasions there was an observation that there must be a model policy. In this regard we have already started our work. Within two or three weeks time we would be able to place a model policy, so that States can adopt."

Assam

Advocate, Ms. Diksha Rai appearing on behalf of the State of Assam submitted that some of the e-mails sent by NCPCR have not been sent to the correct e-mail ids.

"It seems that some of the emails which have been sent from NCPCR have not been sent to the correct address. We will update the emails because perhaps some of the States have not been notified correctly."

Karnataka

The Bench asked Advocate, Mr. Raghupathy appearing on behalf of the State of Karnataka, "Raghupathy, why is your state not participating in these meetings?"

Mr. Raghupathy responded, "Milords, I have instructions that they were at the meeting but no questions were asked w.r.t. Karnataka."

Orissa

Advocate, Ms. Anindita Pujari appearing on behalf of the State of Orissa informed the Court at the outset that she had no clear instructions for the hearing as all the instructing officers were down with COVID.

The Bench asked the Counsel appearing for the States to ensure participation in the next meeting as their cooperation is valuable in gauging the ground realities.

"Please ensure that all states participate in the meeting called for by NCPCR on the next occasion…We are trying to help these innocent street children…If you do not participate and cooperate with NCPCR then NCPCR seating in Delhi would not be able to do anything…Please don't make us pass orders against the State Govt. These are all marginalised sections of the society…Please take this matter very seriously."

The Bench asked the States to provide their inputs so that it could finally pass an order to address all the concerns pertaining to the matter. The Bench noted that the States have not uploaded requisite information on the Bal Swaraj web-portal even with respect to identification, which is the first and the most crucial stage of the process.

"What is that the States have to say? Along with NCPCR, information in the Bal Swaraj web-portal has to be updated...Now we see for the most important stage i.e. identification of children most of the States show zero or double digits. This means that absolutely no work has been done…One by one we will follow up. Please respond as to why nothing is being done."

Maharashtra

Advocate, Mr. Sachin Patil appearing on behalf of the State of Maharashtra submitted that the data available with Save the Children was for the year 2018 and the ground realities have changed since. The children identified at specific locations have migrated. In view of the changed circumstances, the State had started a new survey in all the cities. It was further highlighted that 3257 children have already been identified and process has been initiated to produce them before the Child Welfare Committee (CWC)

"There is data uploaded by Save the Children on the website, uploaded in 2021. We called them and had a meeting with the Save the Children NGO. It is found that the data is for 2018. We attempted to verify the date. We have already ordered all Collectors and all authorities to identify and follow the procedure under JJ Act. Instructions are already given and that is under process.

We have already identified 3257 children. The data of about 66,000 uploaded by Save the Children on the website of NCPCR is not a real time date… Therefore, we started a new survey. When our authorities visited a particular chowk where initially the children were identified, that children is today not available in that place because of migration happening during the period of COVID also. The children who have become major have moved out of that area. Therefore, we have ordered a fresh survey in all cities. It has started. Till date we have identified 3257 children and we initiated a process to produce them before the CWC. We are making all our honest efforts. What is uploaded on the website is not real time data. That is our difficulty."

The Bench clarified its previous order and stated that once identification is done, the process of rehabilitation is triggered automatically and the concerned authorities need not wait for any specific order in that regard.

"Last order of 13th Dec, we have stated clearly that once identification happens you have to start rehabilitating without waiting…You should not delay the uploading…"

The Bench also expressed its disbelief with respect to the data shared by the State of Maharashtra.

"Is it believable that in a large city like Maharashtra there are only 2000 children on the streets."

Mr. Patil submitted, "This is not a complete picture.". He added that compliance could have been better if the State was not in the grip of COVID-19 surge.

The Bench was critical of the submission made with respect to the prevailing COVID situation, since the Court had been repeatedly passing orders to expedite the identification process much before the surge.

"For the past 3-4 months things were alright. The needs of these children who might be starving on the streets can't wait. If the states do not act promptly, how will they be taken care of?"

Mr. Patil stated, "We are not taking this as adversarial litigation."

Encouraging Maharashtra to do better, the Bench remarked -

"We appreciate that the Counsels for the States have been very cooperative…Whatever we are doing should not only remain on paper. Next time the matter is listed, Maharashtra we expect something is done."

Mr. Patil sought four week's time to show a better progress report to the Court.

Delhi

Advocate, Mr. Chirag M. Shroff appearing on behalf of NCT of Delhi attempted to take the Court through the status report filed by him a couple of days back. However, the Bench was dissatisfied that the data were not uploaded on the Bal Swaraj portal.

"Why can't you upload on the Bal Swaraj portal. How many times do we have to repeat our order."

Mr. Chirag sought a week's time to update the portal.

Concerned that the COVID-19 surge would turn out to be brutal for the children who are living on the streets, the Bench reckoned -

"This COVID and all the problems we are facing would be in an aggravated form for these children. From the data given by NCPCR, it's not that all these children are living with their families and they go back home in the evening. There are children who do not have anybody to take care of them."

Reading from his affidavit, Mr. Chirag apprised the Bench-

"Total children recovered is 428. So far as Bal Swaraj- CiSS portal the uploading has been done for numbers indicated below - 239 children were identified and registered; registration with all stages complete w.r.t 60 and in process are 179 which is pending registration."

The Bench stated that the said status report did not capture the ground reality. As per the knowledge of the Bench, almost six months back the number identified for CiSS in Delhi was 70,000 and at present the identified number is a meagre 428.

"The status report does not reflect the ground reality. Because almost 6-7 months back when we started the matter, we were made aware that the Delhi Govt. or some organisation had identified 70,000 CiSS in Delhi alone. As per the status report you have identified only 428."

Mr. Chirag requested the Bench to permit him a week's time to get back with his response.

It was emphasised by the Bench that given the extreme cold weather in the northern parts of the country immediate steps to provide shelter to the CiSS should be taken up by the States without any delay.

"The condition of these children would be worse in the northern parts of the country because of the biting cold. You just imagine how they are surviving on the streets. So, you have to immediately at least shift them to Rain Baseras, shelter homes, whatever is available. It is your duty…Mr. Shroff tell us what you have done. Act immediately. This one month is much more difficult."

Uttar Pradesh

The Bench enquired, "Who is appearing for UP and MP?"

Additional Advocate General, Ms. Garima Prasad appearing on behalf of the State of U.P. referred to her affidavit to submit that the State is making efforts to find 30,282 children already identified by an NGO in five districts in the year 2016-17. However, lack of information is acting as a stumbling block in the process of identification. Apart from the five districts, the concerned authorities are also carrying out surveys to identify children who are begging and are school dropouts.

"There were about 30,282 children from 5 districts which had been identified by the NGO. There are 30,282 children identified in the year around 2016-17. We are making efforts to look for these children. Due to lack of address and information not provided by the NGO, all have not been identified and found till now. We are making efforts to find these children. Several teams have been sent out to look for these children…In addition to these 5 districts, in all other districts teams and agencies have now been sent to take all children who are into begging, school dropouts. Their lists are being maintained. Your lordship gives us 4 weeks time."

Hearing the Counsel, Justice Rao suggested all the States to constitute Special Juvenile Units and assign the identification work to traffic police and voluntary organisations so that the process can be expedited.

"We would request all of you to tell authorities to constitute these Special Juvenile Units. You can assign this work to traffic police…Apart from this, we have seen Maharashtra and Delhi saying that they will take services of voluntary organizations…Do not delay the process. You should have done it by now."

Justice Nagarathna was of the view -

"In most states these SJPUs are constituted but how effective they are is the big question...High Courts have JJ committees, they are nudging the committee, but nothing is happening. In times of COVID the orphans who have lost one or two parents would be vulnerable and inevitably land on the street."

Tamil Nadu

The Bench enquired, "You are not participating in the process."

Advocate, Mr. S. Joseph Aristotle appearing on behalf of Tamil Nadu submitted, "They have been informed, I shall follow it up with Gaurav."

The Bench was concerned that the third surge of COVID would mean that more children are pushed to the streets. It reminded the Counsels that surge in COVID cases cannot be an excuse for the slow progress of the identification and rehabilitation process.

"We are not running away from realities, we know the country is in third surge of COVID…But part of this is also to take care of children. With the surge of COVID you will have that many children on the street. You come with the excuse that everyone is busy with COVID."

Mr. Aristotle assured the Bench, "We will inform them. How many children we have identified we have rehabilitated them."

The Bench instructed the Counsel, "Put up data on the web-portal."

Madhya Pradesh

Advocate, Mr. Pashupathi Nath Razdan appearing on behalf of the State of Madhya Pradesh apprised the Court that as on 10.12.2021, 704 children have been identified in the State.

"We have started all work w.r.t. CiSS. As per the affidavit we have identified the kids who are in CiSS…On 10th Dec we filed the affidavit. As on the date of filing of affidavit there were 704 children who were CiSS. As far as the NCPCR affidavit is concerned, the number has increased."

However, the Bench noted that almost five months back the NCPCR affidavit data for four towns out of which one was in Madhya Pradesh reflected a number as large as two lakhs.

"The numbers have not increased from December. Mr. Razdan, in affidavit filed by NCPCR four five months back they had identified 4 towns and one is in M.P. where they say two lakhs."

Mr. Razdan submitted, "We had immediately informed Principal Secretary Health that numbers are not rightly coming to use. They are actively looking into it."

The Bench asked Mr. Razdan to see to it that the DMs are issued circulars and instructions are provided to them in consonance with the orders of the Court.

Mr. Razdan informed the Bench, "To sensitise the issue we have already conducted meeting with DMs. Virtual meeting have been done with all DMs."

Jharkhand

Advocate, Ms. Pragya Baghel appearing for the State of Jharkhand submitted, "The NCPCR affidavit shows zero but we have identified 109."

The Bench enquired, "Give information on web-portal. 109 definitely is not the correct number. What did you do to 109."

Ms. Baghel responded, "Out of 109, 46 cases have been produced before the CWC…We have out them, in shelter home, 46 children."

Gujarat

Advocate, Ms. Deepanwita Priyanka appearing on behalf of the State of Gujarat apprised the Court that 108 children have been identified to be living on streets with families, 895 children have been staying on streets during the day and are back home by night and 9 children were found to be without any support. Out of these 9, 7 have been reunited with their families and 2 have been sent to institutions.

"Milord, 1086 children have been found to be living on the streets with their families. So far as children who are staying on the street at day and back home the number is around 895. 9 children who were found without support living on the street, 7 have been reported to be back with their family and two children have been sent to the institutions."

Since the portal did not reflect the said data, the Bench asked the Counsel to ensure that the DM uploads the information on the portal. It further enquired about the measures taken by the State.

"You have done only follow up. So far as uploading on web-portal everything is showing zero zero. Ask DMs to upload information. You have just given the number, but what did you do."

Ms. Priyanka informed the Bench the steps taken by the State -

"It is being ensured that schemes are being provided by them. For children living on streets without support I have instructed them to make a survey and ensure no children living on the streets without family are left on the streets and put to institutions. 2 have already been put in the institution."

Justice Nagarathna suggested adoption for the children so identified.

"They can go for adoption. There is a mechanism."

Karnataka

Justice Nagarathna pointed out to Justice Rao that the State of Karnataka had indeed filed a detailed status report.

"In page 92, in the Karnataka affidavit there is one annexure where they have given data for Nov-Dec. That data for what has been done for the month of Nov-Dec is there on affidavit. There is a separate Directorate in Karnataka so they have been able to have this data. This is only for Nov-Dec."

Perusing the Affidavit, Justice Rao appreciated the efforts taken by the State. He direct the DMs to upload the information on the portal.

"If you continue to do this.There is progress in what you have done. But, the numbers definitely would be more. There is some good work done here. You direct the DMs to act now. The same procedure you followed here follows for other children. Ask DMs not to delay uploading information on web-portal."

Mr. Nataraj asserted that -

"In CISS matters all states have failed…The States which have not participated are - Andaman, Daman and Diu."

Without going into the specifics, the Bench stated that it would direct all the states to participate.

"It's alright we will ask them to participate now… We ask the Counsels for the State to impress upon the authorities that these matters brook no delay."

Advocate, Ms. Shobha Gupta appearing on behalf of WWI put forth her suggestions. She asked the Court to record in the order that if any complaint is received with respect to any specific areas the concerned SJPUs would be held responsible in contempt proceedings in view of the repeated orders and its statutory mandate.

"Every stakeholder has a mandatory duty here to make sure that the children are not in the streets, but in a safe shelter. If Milords, pass an order that if there is complaint is made to the Court qua any area the concerned SGPUs would be held responsible for the contempt proceedings for not taking actions despite repeated directions."

The Bench reckoned "We don't expect the departments to only work under threat of contempt. We are a welfare state."

Ms. Shobha submitted, "There are specific provisions w.r.t. SJPUs. Sometimes some stringent actions."

The Bench enquired, "Which is the provision under the JJ Act that imposes duty?"

Ms. Shobha and Amicus Curiae, Mr. Gaurav Aggarwal apprised the Bench that the relevant provisions in this regard are Section 31(1)(i) read with Section 2(14) and Section 107 of the JJ Act.

Finally Mr. Aggarwal submitted that none of the affidavits depict a policy for rehabilitation for children who are identified to be living on streets with their parents and the same ought to be indicated in the affidavits filed by the States in the future.

"I have gone through all the status reports and affidavits. Children's identification is one thing. But, what is important is that the children who are identified to be living on streets with their parents, there is no rehabilitation for even one child that has been placed on record by the States. I have two children and I am living on the street. How will the State plan to rehabilitate me? The State should also indicate…what is the policy on each of these three categories - If the child jas no support of course CCI will be remedy available; if the child during the day is living on the street and then going back what is your policy to help that child. Because the DM will only follow the policy of the State…That is lacking in these affidavits."

Justice Nagarathna highlighted some initiatives taken by the State Legal Service Authorities (SLSA) in Karnataka in this regard.

"Regarding rehabilitation as far as Bangalore city is concerned, Karnataka State Legal Services Authority is making use of old State owned buses, converted into classrooms and the buses move from area to area. They spend time in some kind of education. That is one of the schemes because SLSA also has some schemes for street children."

J. Rao pointed out that similar initiatives have been taken in Delhi as well. However, the concern of the Animus is that the State Governments should come up with such schemes.

"In New Delhi they have organised mobile schools with teachers at street corners. In Aurangzeb Road they have started one is what I was told. This has been done in Delhi also, what the Amicus is saying is the State should come forward with these schemes. We will list this matter after 3 weeks and in the meanwhile we will want all the State Govts. To respond as in what is being done by them at least w.r.t identification and rehabilitation."

Thereafter, the Bench went on to dictate the order as under -

"By an order dated 13.12.2021, NCPCR was directed to file a status report about the information updated by States Govts./UTs on Bal Swaraj (CiSS) portal. The State Govts./UTs were also directed to file status reports on steps taken in rescuing and rehabilitation of CiSS (Children in Street Situations) within a period of three weeks from the date of order. The status report filed by NCPCR, has brought to the notice of this Court that meetings were held with the authorities of the State Govts./UTs on 5th, 6th and 7th Jan, 2022 to discuss steps to be taken for the implementation of SOP 2.0. Barring a few States all the State Govts/UTs have participated in the meeting. The data of CiSS uploaded on Bal Swaraj website till 11.01.2022, discloses that there are 9945 CiSS. A rough estimate of CiSS according to NCPCR would be around 15 lakhs. However, only 10,000 children have been identified by the State Govts./UTs which would show that suitable action is not being taken by State Govts./UTs. Identification of CiSS is the first step for the purpose of rescuing them from the streets and rehabilitating them. The information that is provided with respect to other stages on the web portal by the State Govts./UTs are also not satisfactory. The Ld. Counsels appearing for the State Govts. submitted that instructions will be given to all the DMs and concerned authorities that the identification and rehabilitation of CiSS shall be taken up without any further delay. Section 31, 32 and 33 of Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015 (JJ Act) provide for mandatory reporting of children separated from their guardians and the production of such children in need of care before the committee, before the District Child Protection Unit. Not providing information as required by Section 32 shall be regarded as an offence under Section 33 for which a person shall be liable for imprisonment for 6 months under Section 34 of the Act. Section 107 of the Act provides for the constitution of Special Juvenile Police Units (SJPUs). According to Section 107(2) SJPUs should be constituted by State Govts. in each district and city headed by police officer not below the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police and consisting of all police officers designated under Subsection 1 and two social workers having experience of working in the field of child welfare, of whom one shall be woman.

The slow pace at which the identification of CiSS is due to COVID, according to the Ld. Counsels appearing on behalf of State Govts. We have indicated in orders passed earlier that the DMs can take the assistance of the District Legal Service Authorities (DLSA) and voluntary organisations to carry out statutory duties under JJ Act, 2015. As the implementation of the directions issued by this Court on earlier occasions relating to identification and rehabilitation of CiSS does not brook any further delay, we direct all the DMs to involve the SJPUs, DLSA and voluntary organisations in identification of CiSS without any further delay. The DMs are also directed to upload the information at all stages on the Bal Swaraj (CiSS) web-portal.

The Ld. Amicus Curiae submitted that there is no information provided in any affidavits filed by the State Govt. regarding steps taken for rehabilitation for those children who have been identified in CiSS. He asserted that it is imminent that State Govts. take their policy decision regarding the procedure to be followed by authorities for rehabilitation of CiSS. In the next meeting to be conducted by NCPCR, the issue relating to rehabilitation of children, without waiting for the entire procedure of filling up information on web-portal should be discussed. Without any delay, the State Govts, with the guidance of NCPCR shall formulate a policy for rehabilitation after they have been identified and rescued from the streets. In the status report to be filed by the State Govts./UTs in a period of three weeks from today, steps taken in this regard shall also be mentioned.

Ms. Shobha Gupta submitted that it is high time that authorities who have not been acting in accordance with JJ Act should not be taken to task as the statute itself provides for penalties. We don't want to exercise such power at this stage. We appreciate the stand taken by State Govts. and the Ld. Counsels appearing for the State Govts. to ensure that those children in street situations who are living in inhumane conditions are rescued at the earliest. Though the progress of identification of these children to provide them with basic amenities have been slow, the State Govts. have started discharging constitutional duties to protect this marginalised section of children in street situations. We direct the State Govts. to instruct all the concerned authorities not to delay the identification and rehabilitation of CiSS. List this matter after 4 weeks."

[Case: In Re Children in Street Situations Suo Moto Writ (C) No.6/2020]

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