State sitting on the fence over report?
Despite the startling findings in a child rights commission report about the wretched condition of the state's children's homes, sources say authorities are attempting to soft-pedal the issue
Even as MiD DAY yesterday reported (‘Govt audit blows lid off children’s homes mafia’) how corruption at children’s homes across the state has made giant leaps, the state government is only taking baby steps to withstand the menace. What’s more, sources say authorities may even be trying to gloss over the unpleasant facts that were exposed in a report submitted by Maharashtra State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (MSCPCR).
The study laid bare the collusion between government officials and the ‘mafia’ running these establishments with apparent impunity and little regard for the kids’ well being. In most of the cases the modus operandi was to form societies/trusts and grab government funds. In fact, children in a good number of these homes are compelled to live under ‘unhygienic, inhuman and indecent conditions’, stated MSCPCR.
The report has recommended civil and criminal proceedings against officers responsible for giving permissions flouting rules and procedures, and action against children’s home mafias ‘who should be booked under stringent provisions of penal laws’. It has also suggested steps under sections 31, 32, 33 and 34 of Juvenile Justice Act against officers along with committee members and chairmen of child welfare committees, and owners of these organisations.
According to sources, the Congress-NCP government wants the state commissioner for women and child development to scrutinise the report, knowing fully well that it was submitted by a quasi-judicial body. This means the government and its allied offices cannot discount or stymie MSCPCR, said a senior official who was once associated with the department.
Another significant aspect is that the same commissionerate did not cooperate with MSCPCR when the latter last year sought all documents and records of children’s homes operational in the state. The commission had also demanded inspection reports of local committees in each district that comprise district collectors or chief executive officers of zilla parishads. Finally, MSCPCR had to issue a notice under section 14 (1) of Protection of Child Rights Act, 2005 to the commissioner and only then were all the files and reports from as many as 20 districts made available.
Meanwhile, sources said the issue created commotion at a recent state cabinet meeting when minister for women and child welfare Prof Varsha Gaikwad had a confrontation with the then deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar over a file pending with the finance department.
Gaikwad reportedly complained over the delay in approving of the file proposing a hike in government grants given to children’s homes – from Rs 950 to Rs 1,250 against each child every month.
Going by the magnitude of the corruption, the state should conduct a census to establish whether the children shown on records of these homes actually exist or not, said a government official.
Efforts by MiD DAY to contact Rajendra Chavan, commissioner for women and child development, failed despite several calls to his cellphone.
389 Number of children’s homes in the state that should be shut down immediately, as recommended by the report