The presence of policemen at Sewa Kutir on Saturday could have stoked the violence by its young inmates, officials said.
The children lodged at the reformatory in Kingsway Camp quarrelled with one of the guards there around 8pm. They had apparently asked him for drugs.
The guard went to his seniors, and this seemed to have irked the children. They began throwing stones and smashing window panes.
The authorities called the police and soon, around 50 policemen had encircled the facility.
The inmates, a few of them accused in more than 18 cases, flared up after seeing the police on the compound.
A team of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights visited the spot and spoke to the children.
Seven of the 15 children who returned after having escaped accused the police of beating them up, prompting the government to order a probe into the allegations.
For over six hours, policemen and reformatory officials stood by as the inmates went on the rampage, burning office files and pocketing valuables.
The children set the superintendent’s office on fire, went back, had food and then escaped early in the morning.
“It wasn’t planned. The children, however, knew that no force could be used against them. After getting out, they set the main gate on fire so that reinforcements couldn’t enter the compound. They took the locker from office to the dormitory and broke it open,” said a staff at the home.
The government, which runs the juvenile homes in the city, maintains that the police need to be proactive and not mere spectators.
“The police were spectators while this was happening,” said an official.
Policemen, on the other hand, said they could have lost their jobs had they taken any action against the juveniles.
“We are not even allowed to use batons. How will you stop boys who are ready to do anything and fear nothing? No one wants to lose their job,” said a senior police officer who did not want to be named.
Those children who returned after escaping said they did not wanted to go but some of the boys had forced them to. “They threatened us and took us along. We did not go beyond the bus depot, which is next to our observation home. The boys even beaten up many of us,” a boy, who has been staying at the juvenile home for the past year, said.
The way the children escaped scared the staff of the reformatory. “Inmates have escaped earlier too, but the way it happened this time was scary. We saw burning cylinders coming our way. They climbed to roofs and threw bricks and stones at us,” said a welfare officer.
“It is a failure of governance. When we visited (the facility), every child wanted us to listen to their complaint. This means people there are not listening to them,” said Anant Asthana, a lawyer who work for child rights.