More than 50 orphanages, including Vidyavati Ashram where a 13-year-old girl was allegedly raped by a minor inmate last month, are awaiting renewal of their licences since the Juvenile Justice Act came into being in 2006.
According to child rights experts, the unceremonious delay in renewal of certificates would only make a leeway for orphanages and government officials in case of any Vidyavati-like untoward incident.
Operating illegally: The licence of Vidyavati Ashram, where a case of
a girl's rape surfaced recently, expired in 2008. Pic/Krunal Gosavi
Anjali Pawar, Child Right activist and Director of Sakhee said as everybody knows that the state has declared Vidyavati Ashram illegal as its licence was not renewed." It won't be a surprise if the state brands other institutions, awaiting renewal of licences, illegal in case of any offence against children and shies away from their responsibilities.
Illegal: The issue of renewal of licences came to the fore after WCDD
officers approached the police to take action on the trustees of
Vidyavati Ashram, terming it illegal as its licence had expired in 2008.
Pawar added, "Do they mean to say that all these institutions are illegal? And if any such thing happens then who should be held is responsible?" Highly-placed sources in the Women and Child Development Department (WCDD) say that government is in the process of preparing a new set of criteria on the basis of which the licences will be issued in the future, hence the delay.
However, child rights experts fear that many orphanages will not be able to run the institutions in the future due to stricter criteria prepared by the WCDD. The new set of criteria, which was put before non governmental organisations (NGOs) and child rights activists recently, include specific infrastructure, yearly audit checks, segregation of boys and girls above ten years of age, financial capacity of trustees of orphanages and their experience to run such an institute.
The issue of pending renewal of licences got heat after WCDD officers approached the police to take action against the trustees of Vidyavati Ashram terming it illegal as its licence had expired in 2008. Sources in the WCCD added that frequent transfers of district women and child development officers were also to be blamed for this delay.
In the past three years, five different officers have headed the post of district women and child welfare department, which has the authority to grant licences to orphanages. A member of child welfare committee, on the condition of anonymity, said, "Earlier the power to grant licences were entrusted with the State Control Board. But since implementation of the Juvenile Justice Act in 2006, all the orphanages had to reapply for licences before the district women and child welfare officer. Due to frequent transfers of these officers, more than fifty orphanages are still waiting for renewal of licences."
Deputy Commissioner Ravindra Patil, who is also holding additional charge of the WCDD, said, "Saying that licences of orphanages were not renewed in last few years due to frequent transfers of DWCD is wrong. In other districts the welfare officers are also holding additional charges, but we have not come across the same pendency as in case of Pune." He added, "For the past two months, the grant of licences has been put on hold as the state government is in the process of setting the new criteria for orphanages. Once it is cleared the licences will be renewed".