The Supreme Court, on Wednesday, summoned Maharashtra DGP Satish Mathur after being irked at the cluelessness of the officers present in Court when asked about their investigation into the manner in which the 68 girls rescued last year from a red light area in Maharashtra travelled to the State from Rajasthan.
During the hearing, the Bench comprising Justice J. Chelameswar and Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul hinted at this being a systematic crime, noting, “Admittedly, all the girls rescued belong to the State of Rajasthan, who are found in the State of Maharashtra and allegedly involved in the oldest profession known to the humanity.
If 68 girls from one particular State are found in another State in this country, allegedly resorting to prostitution, it should normally raise a suspicion in the minds of anybody concerned that there must be some systematic crime going on to induce or compel the innocent girls into prostitution.”
It was then informed that while two ladies who were supposedly running a brother were arrested, they have since been released on bail. Irked at the investigation conducted so far, it then directed,
“If that is the degree of efficiency of an investigation, it is not safe to leave the investigation to the hands of the officers present in Court.
Having regard to the dimensions of the case and the implications of the social problem, apart from the question of law, we deem it appropriate to direct the Director General of Police, Maharashtra to be present before this Court to assist the Court for further course of action in respect of the case on 03.04.2018.”
The matter has now been listed on 3 April.
The story so far
In January last year, on receiving a tip from the Petitioner NGO, Rescue Foundation, police had conducted a raid at a brothel in Shahada, Nandurbar, pursuant to which seven girls, including five minors, were retrieved. The minor girls were sent to the Child Welfare Committee (CWC), Nandurbar, on orders of the Judicial Magistrate First Class.
Thereafter, 61 women were arrested from the same area for obscene behaviour and activities in a public place and were convicted under Section 110 read with Section 117 of the Maharashtra Police Act. However, they were later treated as victims and were sent to protection homes. Out of these 61 women, 18 were found to be minors on medical examination.
The Magistrate had then issued orders to the CWC as well as the protection homes to release the minors to people claiming to be their parents or guardians. The Bombay High Court, however, set aside the order of the Magistrate on 24 August, opining that the proceedings by the Magistrate were in breach of the provisions of the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act of 1956 and the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act of 2015.
The High Court relied on Section 17 of the 1956 Act, which mandates that while issuing orders, the Magistrate shall ensure that no person should be restored to or placed in the custody of a person who may exercise harmful influence on them. It had further opined that the Magistrate had overstepped the mandate of Section 9 of the 2015 Act and the jurisdiction of the Juvenile Justice Board as he had proceeded to order release of the minors, without verifying the authenticity of the applications made by those claiming to be their guardians.
The High Court had further ruled that it was only the CWC that had the authority to deal with the minor girls, who were “children in need of care and protection” as defined under the 2015 Act. It had, therefore, directed the girls to be produced before the CWC, which was directed to “take decisions regarding their safe custody as well as delivery of their custody to the parents – guardians.”
Thereafter, the Supreme Court, in September last year, noted that the CWC had hurriedly handed over the custody of the minor girls to their so-called parents or guardians, and had noted that the Petitioner NGO had a reasonable apprehension that these so-called parents were, in fact, the ones responsible for trafficking and selling the minor girls to unknown people.
It had then, in December 2017, directed that the minor girls be placed in the custody of the Petitioner NGO, pending final enquiry into the arrangements for their custody. In doing so, the Court had taken note of the fact that the NGO has been doing some good work and has been taking care of the children in need of protection and care.