Maharashtra rights body did not hear a single case in 2020: RTI response
On January 9, 2021, 10 premature babies died at the neonatal care unit of District General Hospital in Bhandara after a fire broke out in the hospital. On January 18, 2021, five persons, including two teachers, were booked for gang-raping a minor student in Nanded district of Marathwada region in Maharashtra. During the pandemic and the resultant lockdown, a large number of cases of harassment, child abuse and the violation of child rights like those mentioned above were reported across the state of Maharashtra.
However, the Maharashtra State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (MSCPCR), which is a body entrusted with the responsibility of taking cognisance of such cases, did not hear a single complaint in 2020, a response to a Right to Information (RTI) query showed.
In a response to an RTI query filed by HT, state’s child rights commission has stated that in 2020, a total of 134 cases were filed with the commission. However, not a single hearing took place that year, leading to a 100% pendency rate as far as action against these cases is concerned.
MSCPCR is a quasi-judicial body that hears complaints with respect to child abuse, cases of harassment of children and those pertaining to violation of their rights. Between 2018 and 2020, a total of 416 cases came to the commission, of which 164 cases (nearly 40% were disposed of). The RTI response also revealed that six of the 12 or 50% of the permanent posts in the commission were lying vacant as of January 2021.
Over the past few years, parents and education activists have been complaining about the lackadaisical approach of the commission in addressing their complaints. The commission consists of a chairperson and six members who are in charge of hearing the complaints. Every hearing requires a quorum of at least two members. The committee has a tenure of three years unless it is extended further. In June 2020, as the tenure of the previous committee was over, the state government did not appoint new members which in turn led to piling up of complaints.
Anubha Sahai, president of Indiawide Parents Association, said complaints sent to the commission remained unaddressed due to the government’s apathy. “During the entire lockdown period, several schools harassed students for non-payment of fees by removing them from online classes and not conducting their exams among other things. None of these complaints got a hearing due to the commission’s current state,” she added.
Sahai has recently written to the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) urging it to look into the matter. NCPCR recently took cognisance of the Bhandara incident and asked the district collector to send a report within two days of the incident.
Queries sent to state women and child developement minister Yashomati Thakur went unanswered. Uday Jadhav, secretary, MSCPCR, said, “We have requested the state to form the committee at the earliest and it shall be done soon. Since there is no committee at the moment, hearings cannot take place in the absence of a quorum.”
Pravin Ghuge, former chairperson of the commission whose tenure ended in June 2020, said the commission’s role is relevant especially now when several cases need its attention. “During the initial months of the lockdown, we worked towards three kinds of children — those living in orphanages, runaway children and those not looked after by their biological parents. We conducted workshops and sensitisation programmes wherein a lot of cases of violations were also found and action was taken in these matters. However, since the tenure of the committee ended in June, the government has not appointed a new committee. Hence issues like the Bhandara incident and other such incidents in the state have not been looked into,” he added.
In January 2019, Prasad Tulaskar, a city-based parent, had filed an RTI application to get details about the working of the commission after his complaint filed in 2016 had still not progressed. It had revealed that from 2015 to 2018, the commission had disposed of only 33 of the 280 cases it received during these years. As per the commission’s website, it passed only five orders in 2017-18 as opposed to 90 orders in 2015. “The committee has become a toothless body. Every time we enquire, we are told that appointments are pending. The last hearing of my case took place in 2018 and I have not heard about it since,” he said.