New Delhi: Two children homes in the national capital, which are run by activist and former IAS officer Harsh Mander-led NGO Centre for Equity Studies, are facing an FIR over alleged cruelty and abuse under the juvenile justice law.
The Delhi Police has registered FIR in the case over a complaint by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR).
According to the FIR filed Tuesday, the NGO and its two children homes — Ummeed Aman Ghar and Khushi Rainbow Home, in south Delhi — have violated sections 75 (cruelty to children) and 83(2) (using children for illegal activities) of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act.
“The case has been registered on the basis of an inspection by teams of NCPCR in October 2020 in these homes,” Atul Thakur, Deputy Commissioner of Police, South Delhi, said in a statement.
The move came after the NCPCR sent a 24-page report to the DCP South on 30 December 2020, levelling allegations against the children homes and the NGO.
In its report, the panel claimed that during inspection, it found four-five girls were made to sit-in during the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protests in 2019-20. It also said a boy staying in Ummeed Aman Ghar was told that “the government only works for Hindus and keeps fighting in Pakistan”.
“Such usage of children is illegal and prima facie a violation of Section 83(2) of JJ Act, 2015,” the commission said in its report.
The panel also accused the homes of stuffing children in tiny cabins and not maintaining social distancing during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Speaking to ThePrint, NCPCR chairman Priyank Kanoongo said: “The children are squeezed inside small cabins where there is no social distancing. 8-10 kids are made to stay in tiny cabins.”
The report said: “The inspection team also observed that the norms of social distancing were not followed in these Homes and that the staff of these Homes that were not residing in the Homes and were travelling everyday to these Homes for work were found to be not wearing masks and not following social distancing norms, which made the children exposed to the risk of contracting Covid-19.”
It also sought a probe over violations under the Epidemic Diseases Act or other laws laid down in the wake of Covid.
ThePrint reached Mander via calls and texts but there was no response until the time of publishing this report.
Allegations against Mander over media statements
In its report, the NCPCR also asked the Delhi Police to register an FIR against Harsh Mander under Section 199 of the Indian Penal Code for making “false declarations and statements in the media which have found to be contradictory to the findings of the inquiry of NCPCR”.
The former IAS officer in a press statement in October last year had questioned the timing of the panel’s inspection, saying it is being done to “defame” him. He had asked if India’s apex body for child rights will be another tool for the “witch hunt” against dissenters.
Mander has been a leading critic of the Narendra Modi government’s policies and laws, particularly the CAA.
Moreover, the activist also said in his statements that he was no longer associated with the children’s homes.
The NCPCR said in its report, “He has stated that he is no longer associated with these Homes, while he remains the director of the Centre for Equity Studies and a part of the governing body of the organization. Centre for Equity Studies is the organisation that administers these two CCIs. That such false statements made by him regarding his association with these Homes and misleading allegations against NCPCR should be taken under serious view.”
However, the police didn’t name Mander in the FIR. “The charges against Mander are under investigation and FIR will be lodged if found guilty,” said a senior police officer, who did not wish to be named.
Kanoongo said, “The police have to register an FIR against him, else we will go to the courts.”
Sexual abuse cases?
The NCPCR also alleged that the children homes and its governing NGO have not dealt with cases of sexual violations. The report listed three such incidents from 2012, 2013 and 2016, which it claimed to have not been dealt with adequately.
The child rights body said the homes had claimed during inspection that there have been no cases of sexual offences since its inception, but it found that such cases had taken place in these years.