The Supreme Court on Tuesday termed as "very shameful" and "inhuman" the conduct of Bihar government in not taking appropriate action following the allegations of physical and sexual abuse of children at several shelter homes and favoured a CBI investigation in these matters.
A bench headed by Justice Madan B Lokur said the state was "very soft" and "very selective" in registering FIRs against the perpetrators and asked the Bihar government whether these children were not the citizens of this country.
The apex court also asked the counsel appearing for the Bihar government as to why FIRs have not been lodged under section 377 (unnatural offences) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) despite there being allegations that children were sodomised at the shelter homes.
"What are you doing? This is very shameful. You may have filed a detailed affidavit (in the court) but if a child is sodomised, you cannot say that it is nothing. How can you do this? This is inhuman," the bench, also comprising justices S A Nazeer and Deepak Gupta, told the state's counsel.
During the hearing, Justice Gupta observed, "Every time I read this file, I am hit by the tragedy of the case. It is tragic."
The bench said after going through the allegations and the manner in which state police was dealing with them, "We are of the view that the state police is not doing its job as is expected. We would like the CBI to deal with these allegations."
The counsel representing the CBI, which is already probing the Muzaffarpur shelter home case in Bihar where several women inmates were allegedly raped and sexually abused, said he would seek instructions on the issue by Wednesday.
"You take instructions. You (CBI) will have to investigate all this. It appears there is much more into it," the bench told the CBI's counsel orally and posted the matter for hearing on Wednesday.
The counsel appearing for Bihar assured the court that state would take all appropriate action in the matter and said they would rectify all the mistakes.
Senior advocate Shekhar Naphade and lawyer Fauzia Shakil, representing the petitioner who has sought lodging of FIRs and court-monitored probe by an independent agency into alleged physical and sexual abuse of inmates in 14 shelter homes in Bihar, claimed that the state was going "soft" in these cases and FIRs have been lodged under less heinous offences.
Naphade referred to the report of Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) and said that offence under section 377 of IPC was made out as several children were sodomised in the shelter homes.
When Bihar's counsel said provisions of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act were there in the FIRs, the bench said, "If a person is dead and the FIR says it is simple hurt, do you think we will accept it".
To this, Bihar's counsel said he would ensure that offence under section 377 IPC was added in the FIRs lodged.
The bench told the counsel, "Ask your chief secretary (who was present in the court). We were earlier told that state will look into the matter with all seriousness and this is the seriousness you are showing. This is a tragedy."
The court also said it was "unfortunate" that despite the report by TISS indicating financial irregularities in some of the shelter homes, no FIR has been lodged regarding this.
"This is the attitude of state of Bihar," the bench said and initially told Bihar's counsel to rectify these issues within 24 hours.
Later, the bench was of the view that CBI should probe all these matters as if the state police would continue with the investigation, the truth would never come out.
The court also said that as per TISS report, there were 17 shelter homes where the allegations were of grave nature.
When the state's counsel said seven shelter homes were found to be in good condition in Bihar, the bench said "Seven out of around 110."
"Are we doing any favour to these children? Why cannot every shelter hoem be good. Why you should not do this? Are these children not citizens of this country?" the bench said.
The bench, after perusing the affidavit filed by state, asked why FIRs were lodged in matters relating to five child care institutions only when there were nine such institutions.
"Your state is very selective. Out of nine, FIRs have been filed in five only. In four, no FIRs have been filed. It is a big secret. Tell us. Either the people there are incompetent or they are cahoots," the bench said.
"You see how shocking it is," it said while referring to the allegations of physical and sexual abuse of inmates.
The bench said that as per the report, one of the girls in these shelter homes lost her mental balance as she was not allowed to talk to her parents over phone.
The CBI's counsel, while referring to the horrific crimes committed in the shelter home in Muzaffarpur, said these were "offences against the mankind".
"If the CBI will do this job (of probing all cases), I will be the happiest person. There cannot be more henious crime than this. These children are our future," he said.
He also said that investigation in the Muzaffarpur case was going on and they would file a charge sheet within a week before the competent court.
In the Muzaffarpur shelter home case, an FIR was lodged on May 31 against 11 people following the TISS report.
The probe was later taken over by the CBI and so far, 17 people have been arrested.