Govt failed to protect ashramshala girls: HC

Court asks for detailed account of how state govt spent Rs 1,798 crore tribal welfare fund in FY 2007-08, says govt may face contempt of court if it does not come clean on murky affairs at ashramshalas

By Hetal Vyas

The state government has been reprimanded by the Bombay High Court for “failing to protect” tribal girls studying at ashramshalas in Maharashtra. The Tribal Welfare Department has now been asked to give a complete account of how its Rs 1,798 crore fund was spent by the state in the fiscal year 2007-08.

The division bench of Chief Justice Swatanter Kumar and Justice D Y Chandrachud - while hearing a suo motu petition on the sorry state of state-run ashramshalas for tribal children - asked the secretary of Tribal Welfare to file a personal affidavit giving a detailed account of where the fund was used, and also to place on record the action taken against the officers and authorities of these institutes.

The court has taken suo motu cognisance of Mumbai Mirror’s January 23 report of a tribal girl who, after being raped by an ashramshala superintendent, was allegedly pregnant. However, amicus curie (friend of the court) Geeta Mulekar told the division bench that yet another case has now been reported. “A minor girl had delivered a child in December last year,” she said. Further, Mulekar and intervenor Sanjiv Joshi’s lawyer Nitin Gangal informed the court that despite an HC order, the government has still not withdrawn the stock of fungus-infected food. The HC found this negligence unacceptable.

The judges were also upset after the intervenor filed an affidavit supported by several photographs proving that the condition of at least three ashramshalas was pathetic. “This affidavit is an eye-opener for the state government. There is no bathroom, toilet or drinking water facility available. Children are made to carry buckets of water and walk at least one kilometre to get drinking water. Things are going from bad to worse,” said Justice Kumar.

The government has been granted one last opportunity to come clean on the affairs at the ashramshalas else, said judges, “may face contempt of court”.

Ashramshala rape case follow-up

The court also heard the submissions of the lady superintendent of Dahanu Ashramshala, who had allegedly taken the pregnant girl for a check-up at a private clinic in Palghar.

“She followed the instructions of the head master and the project officer; she is not at fault,” her advocate said. However, the judges said that they may direct the sessions court to cancel the anticipatory bail granted to her.