Onlookers present in the court of the sub-divisional magistrate (SDM) of Arwal in south-central Bihar were stunned when a five-year-old boy reached there on Wednesday to sign a bond in a criminal case.
Perched on the shoulders of his father, the child was there as he had been booked under section 107 of the criminal procedure code, in the aftermath of a case of arson in which a shop run by his uncle was set on fire last May.
Section 107 of the CrPC is applied on a person about whom there's an apprehension that his or her actions may cause a breach of peace and tranquility in any area.
On Wednesday, the child had to return home without signing the bond as the sub-divisional magistrate (SDM) did not hold court because he was called away for a meeting convened by the Arwal district magistrate.
Top officials, on Thursday, confirmed the incident. However, when confronted with the gravity of what had happened and asked for comment, the administration was left scrambling for cover.
When reached for a reaction on Thursday, SDM Satyendra Kumar said he was "undergoing training". The acting SDM-cum-DCLR expressed his ignorance about the matter.
Arwal superintendent of Police Anand Kumar said the investigating officer (IO) of the case, Umeshwar Paswan, had been placed under suspension and departmental proceedings were being initiated against him.
DIG (Magadh range) Bachchu Singh Meena said he had directed inspectors and DSPs to henceforth mention the age of the accused in FIRs and physically verify the same.
"This appears to be a clear case of misconduct but I cannot initiate any action as my tenure has ended on August 31," said Nisha Jha, (ex)-chairperson of the Bihar child rights protection commission.
The child was booked in connection with a case of arson in his native Aganur village under Kaler police station of Arwal district, around 70 km south-west of Patna.
An electronic goods shop in the child's name but run by his uncle was set ablaze in May, leading to a loss of items worth over Rs. 2 lakh. His uncle lodged an FIR against Bimlesh Kumar, who registered a counter FIR.
This led the Kaler police to imposed 107 section of CrPC against the child, his uncle and against Kumar.
"The IO and DSP concerned could not inspect or supervise the case. On July 10, the SDM court issued a notice against my child and other two and directed all three to appear in his court," the boy's father told HT.
He said his son had been wrongly implicated in the case and claimed the police were harassing his family.
"Yet, it was callous and criminal neglect, rather than sensitivity, that was in play when the authorities in Arwal district of south-central Bihar booked this five-year-old," said Arvind Kumar, a lawyer and a civil rights activist.