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'Only 27 Orphans Due To COVID? We're Not Prepared To Believe This Figure': Supreme Court Pulls Up West Bengal Govt

Srishti Ojha
27 July 2021 11:37 AM GMT
Only 27 Orphans Due To COVID? Were Not Prepared To Believe This Figure: Supreme Court Pulls Up West Bengal Govt
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The Supreme Court on Tuesday pulled up the State of West Bengal for not uploading correct information of children who were orphaned during the COVID pandemic since March 2020.A bench comprising Justices L Nageswara Rao and Aniruddha Bose was informed by the Additional Solicitor General KM Nataraj, appearing for the National Commission for Protection of Child Right( NCPCR), that the number...

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The Supreme Court on Tuesday pulled up the State of West Bengal for not uploading correct information of children who were orphaned during the COVID pandemic since March 2020.
A bench comprising Justices L Nageswara Rao and Aniruddha Bose was informed by the Additional Solicitor General KM Nataraj, appearing for the National Commission for Protection of Child Right( NCPCR), that the number of orphans uploaded by some states like Punjab, West Bengal and UT of Jammu and Kashmir appear to be 'unrealistic'.

For West Bengal, the Bench has directed the District Magistrates to collect necessary information relating to children who have become orphans due to death of either or one parent after March 2020 and upload it at the earliest. The Court has also asked Secretary of Department of Women, Child Development & Social Welfare to file an affidavit showing particulars of steps taken as directed.

During the hearing, the counsel appearing for West Bengal objected to ASG's statement and stated that "I cannot understand on what basis ASG is saying that data is incorrect. We are identifying children and we have uploaded data of all those identified"

In response to his statement, the Bench asked "Are you sure only 24 children have become orphans in your state? We will record your statement that this is the truth and then order a separate investigation?"

The counsel submitted that a total of 27 children have been identified whose both parents have died.

"Can we record it then? We'll record and ask Secretary to appear. You are so steadfast in saying only 27 orphans are there in such a big State. See figures of other Sates. It is not like your state did not have Covid at all. We are not prepared to believe this figure at all." the bench remarked.

In response to the Counsel's further submission that 'it is an ongoing process', the bench stated that "Please don't make such irresponsible statements here. Do you understand urgency of situation here? Children who have become Orphans and just left to fend for themselves!"

"We will ask Secretary to file affidavit as to steps taken. But don't take such a stand that on what basis NCPCR is making statements. It is not a political issue, its about Welfare of children. Its a collaborative effort. Actually it is your duty, obligation is yours, not ours." the bench remarked.

Later during the hearing, the Standing Counsel of West Bengal appeared before the Court and submitted that information was sought of children who became orphans beacuse of death of parents due to covid. He added that the information will be collected and a report will be submitted.

The bench however clarified that orders passed by the court was to upload information of all children who have become orphans after march 2020 and it was made clear in order that information is not restricted to deaths due to Covid.

In case of Punjab, the Bench directed the State to continue with process of identification of orphans and upload information without any delay.

"You'll have to find means to conduct inquiry at grassroots level. Information might not be properly being conveyed to CWC." the Bench orally observed.

"We had passed an order saying you should associate other Agencies. Unless we get information of children who have lost their parents nothing can be done. Identification is important." the Bench added.

Adv Jaspreet Gogia for Punjab informed the Court that details of some children could not be uploaded as their parents died due to non-Covid reasons.

"Ask your authorities to again conduct survey and upload on portal." the bench told the Counsel.

Since no one appeared for the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir, the bench asked the Amicus Curiae Advocate Gaurav Agarwal to take ask the Counsel to take further information and give instructions to authorities to keep uploading information on the portal.

The bench also observed during the hearing that welfare schemes announced for orphans should not be confined to children who lost parents due to COVID and should cover all children who became orphans since March 2020, whether due to COVID or not.

The bench was considering the suo motu case In Re Contagion of COVID Virus in Children Protection Homes. The suo motu case was initiated in March 2020 to address the issue of COVID spread in juvenile homes, child care centres etc. This year, during the second wave, the Court took note of the issue of children who became orphans during the COVID pandemic period.

On May 28, the Court had directed the Union and States to identify children who have become orphans post March, 2020, whether it be due to the pandemic or otherwise, and upload their information in the 'Bal Swaraj' portal of National Commission for Protection of Child Rights. The bench has also passed directions to control illegal adoption of such orphans.

The bench had earlier sought details from the Centre regarding the benefits announced under PM CARES Fund for orphans.


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