The Bihar government was pulled up by the Supreme Court today for not filing cases under the relevant law on allegations of sexual assault on children at shelter homes in the state. The top court was hearing a case of multiple rapes at a shelter home in Muzaffarpur when it found faults in the way the Bihar government has been handling cases, as a part of a larger audit of shelter homes, that merit being filed under Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code or IPC.
The cases that the Supreme Court was referring to were filed under the POCSO Act, and not under Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which the top court said was not the correct way to handle them.
Though the Supreme Court overruled its own 2013 decision and partially struck down Section 377, a controversial British-era law that banned consensual gay sex, non-consensual or consent obtained by force continues to be an offence, as will “carnal intercourse with children, animals and bestiality”.
“The Bihar government has registered only for minimum offence. If you haven’t registered FIR on 377, then how will you investigate?” a three-judge bench comprising Justices Madan B Lokur, Deepak Gupta and Abdul Nazeer said. “…Are we doing any favour to these children? Are they not citizens of this country.”
The court said the Bihar government got the report on sexual assault cases from a non-profit group in May as part of a larger audit, but “nothing has happened”. In its defence, the Bihar government said it acted on the report without delay.
The Bihar chief secretary has been told to explain why First Information Reports or FIRs under Section 377 of the IPC have not been filed to deal with the cases. The state government’s counsel said they will make amends and file them under the IPC as well.
The Supreme Court also warned Bihar that it would consider handing over all shelter home cases to the Central Bureau of Investigation. For now, the CBI is probing only the Muzaffarpur shelter home rapes.
Over 30 girls were raped and tortured at the home, before the crime was uncovered by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, based on conversations with several girls who alleged sexual assault earlier this year. The main accused Brajesh Thakur, a politically-connected man, is lodged at a jail in Punjab’s Patiala following a Supreme Court order to shift him out of the state.