22 boys escape after rioting, starting fire at juvenile home

,TNN | Oct 7, 2013, 01.58 AM IST

NEW DELHI: Around 50 boys rioted inside a north Delhi juvenile observation home for eight hours on Saturday night, torching down the superintendent's office and triggering blasts by setting fire to gas cylinders. In the melee, 22 boys escaped. By Sunday, 15 had been nabbed.

Police said a hunt was on for the seven still at large, who are involved in cases of robbery, dacoity and snatching.

Eyewitnesses and government officials said the scale and ferocity of Saturday's violence hadn't previously been seen at any juvenile facility in Delhi. The boys were on a rampage through the night at the Adharshila observation home inside Seva Kutir, a juvenile home at Mukherjee Nagar, northwest Delhi, even as a posse of 200 policemen watched as bystanders.

"They destroyed computers in the offices, furniture, water-coolers, medicines and records/files stored inside the room. A massive solar heater on the roof was sent crashing to the ground. After climbing the high security walls, they ransacked my office, used the electric wiring to start a fire and escaped. Our TIP room has been completely burnt. The loss runs into lakhs," said Anil Kumar, superintendent of the Adharshila home.

Before they burnt down the offices, the boys pulled out a cemented cash chest attached to the wall, broke open the locks and took away Rs 35,000 cash, according to the staffers who maintain the office. Most of the boys are over 16 but less than 18 years of age. The home had 128 boys.

Eyewitnesses said it was a miracle the staff escaped unhurt. A posse of nearly 200 policemen apart from private security and personnel of Delhi Armed Police witnessed the rioting inside as bystanders. While eight DAP policemen and 21 private security guards were present when the rioting began, by 2.30am reinforcements from Mukherjee Nagar police station had arrived but could offer little help. They cited the rules in the Juvenile Justice Act and orders of the court to justify their hands off approach.

"We can't even lathi-charge them. Why would a policeman or guard endanger his life in trying to stop a mob of juveniles?" explained a DAP guard posted outside the home.

Women and child development minister Kiran Walia expressed concern over a series of incidents in the government-run juvenile homes and said she had ordered a full report on Saturday's incident. "Once I get the report, we will be in a better position to understand what happened," she said.

When TOI visited the office compound and the observation home adjacent to it, the area resembled a riot zone. It was strewn with burnt paper, blankets, bricks, iron rods and stones. The agitated boys got hold of anything, from blankets to newspapers and photo albums, to light up a fire damaging corrugated iron doors used for entrance and exit by the staffers. A guitar snapped in half lay as a testimony to the violence. Small offices inside the home were severely damaged while half-burnt cylinders reeked of gas.

In the past two months, this is the third time juveniles have rioted and attempted to flee from homes run by the women and child development department of the Delhi government. On August 10, the Majnu Ka Tila juvenile home witnessed the first such case followed by the next incident at Sewa Kutir, Mukherjee Nagar on August 28, which again saw violence on Saturday. Police believe it is the same set of boys who instigated the violence. After the ruckus at Majnu Ka Tila, 10 inmates were shifted to Mukherjee Nagar, from where five escaped on August 28. These boys are suspects in the latest episode too.

According to the staff and guards, trouble began around 8.30pm on Saturday when a group of juveniles reached the terrace of the observation home and started pelting stones, bricks, even earthen pots at the private security guards inside and DAP policemen outside. Emboldened by the lack of resistance from the security staff, the boys scaled the boundary wall with the help of ladders and ropes even as a section targeted the canteen to grab hold of LPG cylinders inside. "We could only watch helplessly as they first threw down the cylinders from the roof. Some of them climbed down and set fire to the cylinders. The blasts were deafening and we ran for cover," recalled a worker at the home.

Rakesh Kumar Yadav, welfare officer posted at the home said some of the boys leading the rampage kept instigating the others to join them. "Some of the boys unhinged the massive water heater installed on the roof and threw it two floors below. When I reached the spot it was raining bricks and cylinders. I took away more than 70 boys outside the home into the open playground within the compound so that they don't get hurt. We were very lucky no one was hurt," Yadav added.

Members of National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) and Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights (DCPCR) also inspected the damage and spoke to the juveniles. Neena Naik, member NCPCR, admitted to TOI that there were no immediate answers to why Saturday's violence took place. "They appear to be well looked after. But it seems it is the uncertainty of their future that gets them frustrated. In some cases, they were the sole bread earners for their parents, others are full of energy and want to prosper. We need to put our heads together to examine how this can be prevented. The boys are regularly visited by counselors and psychologists. Yet this happened," Naik said.