UP police expand search for 18 girls missing from Deoria shelter home
Uttar Pradesh police and the Deoria district administration expanded their search for 18 girls reported missing from a shelter home for women that has come under a cloud over allegation of sexual exploitation of its residents, even as the issue resonated in Parliament on Tuesday.
Two administrative officers accompanied by four police teams searched every room of the two-storey Maa Vindhyavasini Mahila aur Balika Sanrakshan Griha for documents that could lead to more information about the missing girls.
Deoria additional district magistrate (ADM) Sitaram Gupta said they were focusing on ascertaining the number of residents who lived at the shelter home, to better identify the ones missing.
“The regular entry register, which contains updated information about the total number of girls, is being looked into with the hope of getting more information. We have recovered registers, files and other documents which have been seized for further investigation,” the ADM said.
A second official privy to the investigation said documents weighing more than 20 kg had been recovered.
The alleged sexual exploitation was unearthed Sunday night after a 10-year-old girl escaped the home by scaling a wall and informed the police.
“The 10-year-old girl told police about the sex racket that was being run from the shelter home. The district administration has committed negligence in taking action against the management of the shelter home,” state women and child welfare minister Rita Bahuguna Joshi said.
Five people, including the couple who ran the shelter, Girija and Mohan Tripathi, have been arrested. Police have rescued 24 women and girls, who statements were recorded on Tuesday.
In Parliament, opposition parties raised concern over the allegations, which come just weeks after a similar incident at a government-funded shelter home in Bihar’s Muzaffarpur, where more than 30 girls were allegedly sexually abused for months.
Union home Minister Rajnath Singh termed the incident “shameful” and said two senior officials of the UP government were probing the matter. “No culprit will escape action”, Singh added, describing such incidents as unfortunate, sad and shameful.
Soon after the home minister’s response, members of the Samajwadi Party (SP), Rashtriya Janata Dal, Congress and Trinamool Congress staged a walkout. In the Rajya Sabha, SP and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) member disrupted proceedings after House chairman M Venkaiah Naidu disallowed a notice to raise the issue under Rule 267, which allows other proceedings of the day to be set aside for members to take up a specific matter.
The shelter home lost its licence in 2017 over irregularities but continued to function. Joshi said the district administration ignored several missives to raid the shelter home and shift the residents.
“The district administration has committed negligence in taking action against the management of the shelter home. Strict action would be taken against the officers involved in the racket. Police have been directed to find out the girls missing from the shelter home,” she said.
(With inputs from Lucknow and New Delhi)