The Supreme Court on Monday told Delhi and West Bengal governments to share full information about the number of orphans and vulnerable children who were abandoned or lost single parent during the Covid-19 pandemic since April 2020.
A tabular chart presented to the Court by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) contained a list of 30,071 children across states/union territories who lost either or both parents for the period from April 1, 2020 to June 5, 2020. Delhi reported unusually low figures of five orphans and 12 children who lost either parent. The figure was even low in West Bengal with just three orphans and eight children who lost one of their parents. This information was listed by the respective district or state level officers on the NCPCR portal “Bal Swaraj”.
The “Bal Swaraj” portal requires states to provide information about orphans, abandoned children or those needing care and protection on account of losing a parent or guardian in six stages.
Additional Solicitor General (ASG) KM Nataraj appearing for NCPCR singled out Delhi and West Bengal and said, “We are concerned about these two states/UTs as they are not at all cooperating in filling up the data on our portal. Rest of the states/UTs are reasonable in their figures.”
“If information is not given to NCPCR, continuous monitoring of these children becomes difficult,” the law officer said.
The concern expressed by the ASG was palpable. The death toll due to Covid-19 in West Bengal has already crossed 16,000 and in Delhi, in just two months (April-May 2021), there were over 13,000 deaths.
The figures appeared unusually low to the court too which sought an explanation from the two governments. A bench of Justices L Nageswara Rao and Aniruddha Bose said, “Delhi can’t be similar to Andaman and Nicobar Islands or a state like Sikkim. How do you explain your figures?” The court put this query to West Bengal government as well seeking an explanation.
Advocate Chirag Shroff appearing for Delhi informed the Court that this data has been procured from the Child Welfare Committees (CWC) where children in need of care and protection (CNCP) (including orphans and abandoned children) have to be produced. Shroff said, “In the last 15 days, we have written to all departments and police to provide the data. In other states, the district magistrates directly provide this information.”
The bench told Delhi government to upload the information on NCPCR website at the earliest and reach out to the children by providing their immediate needs. “States have constituted Special Task Forces having people from local administration and police at district level to identify these children. Do it in Delhi too,” the bench added.
West Bengal was represented by advocate Sayandeep Pahari. Pahari said that the officials in the state were confused on whether the information sought pertained to children affected by Covid-19 or of CNCPs under the Juvenile Justice Act. “Don’t take refuge under confusion,” the bench replied, adding, “If all states have been uploading information as per our June 1 order, how can it be that West Bengal alone is not understanding.” The court directed the state to immediately upload the data on NCPCR portal.
On June 1, the court had ordered the Centre to provide details about the PM CARES for Children scheme announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to look after children left destitute or without care giver during the Covid-19 pandemic. The Centre informed the court that modalities of implementing the scheme are being worked out and sought further time. The bench heard amicus curiae advocate Gaurav Agrawal and state governments on the immediate directions to be issued for catering to the needs of children affected by the pandemic. An order in this regard is expected to be passed on Tuesday.