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At least 114 juveniles were lodged in Tihar Jail, in complete violation of the law, between October 2010 and August 2011. They were shifted to observation homes across the city only after family members and lawyers protested that they cannot be lodged behind bars because they were yet to attain adulthood.
An RTI reply received by the social group, Haq Center for Child Rights, brought this fact to the notice of the Delhi High Court on Wednesday.
Taking suo motu cognisance of a letter, which had the RTI response from Tihar attached to it, a bench of Acting Chief Justice A K Sikri and Justice Rajiv Sahai Endlaw took strong exception to the lapses committed in not ascertaining the age of juveniles. It sought a response from Delhi Police Commissioner B K Gupta.
Also issuing a notice to the Delhi government, the court underlined the grievance made by advocate Anant K Ashtana in his letter that there was no proper procedure to verify the age of people before sending them to jail.
Ashtana's letter pointed that while picking them up, the police make no effort to ascertain if the criminal is a juvenile. The police often arrest juvenile delinquents, ignoring documentary proof of their age put forward by their families. The children are sent to juvenile homes only later, after the fact is established by courts.
Ashtana further mentioned that a few months ago, the Commissioner of Police had suggesting that care be exercised to ensure that children are not sent to prisons. However, it had not improved the situation, he added.
Meanwhile, the court also took up another PIL relating to the death of children in shelters and observation homes across the Capital, and issued notices to the Delhi government's Department of Social Welfare, Women and Child Development, besides superintendents at Asha Kiran homes.
That RTI replies revealed 123 deaths in the Asha Kiran complex between 2004 and 2008, and 74 at other children shelters, the PIL said. Filed by advocate Pankaj Sinha, it sought a court order calling for death records, besides information pertaining to intake of juveniles. The PIL recommended an independent inquiry into the deaths. Appointing Sinha as the amicus curiae in the juveniles' matter as well, the court posted the matter for December 21.