The Delhi High Court on Tuesday pulled up the Delhi government for not taking steps to comply with its order for terminating, with immediate effect, all cases where inquiries are pending against minors in alleged petty offences before the Juvenile Justice Boards (JJB), and have remained inconclusive for over a year.
The high court noted that the state has also not complied with its direction to apprise it of the number of cases where inquiries are pending in each Juvenile Justice Boards in Delhi for six months to one year, along with the date of institution of the inquiry and of the first production in each case.
When the court was informed that the government was waiting as some amendment was going on in the Rules and 10 days time was sought to produce juveniles before the Juvenile Justice Boards, a bench of Justices Siddharth Mridul and Anup Jairam Bhambhani said, “Children can”t wait. Juveniles can”t wait. You take as much time as you want but children cannot be put on hold.”
During the hearing, the Delhi government showed a chart to the court where there was a difference of 409 minors in the number of juveniles produced before the Juvenile Justice Boards and released thereafter.
“Where are these 409 juveniles? They have fallen through the cracks. These 409 (minors) will be lost in the system. We shudder to think what awaits us. What is happening? What happened to these 409 and where are they?” it asked.
The bench further said the government”s conduct was not satisfactory and the court”s September 29 judgment, which said the child must be produced before the Juvenile Justice Boards within 24 hours of becoming a subject of processes under the Juvenile Justice Act, was clear and had no ambiguity.
“You should follow ‘Alice in the Wonderland’ which says that if everybody minded their own business, the world would go around a great deal faster than it does,” it said.
The court allowed the government”s plea and granted a week to file an affidavit elaborating the steps taken by them to comply with its previous order.
When the court asked when will all the juveniles, allegedly involved in petty offences and against whom inquires are pending, be produced before the Juvenile Justice Boards, the government counsel said it will be done in 10 days.
“You should have done it by now. We are surprised with what Juvenile Justice Boards are doing. Are they not aware of our order? They must comply with our order. By now, the JJB should have directed the police to produce all juveniles before the board,” the bench said.
It said, “we can understand the executive is finding it difficult to comply with our order but we cannot understand why JJB is finding it difficult to comply with our order. We cannot turn a blind eye to it.”
When the government counsel said the court’s September 29 order has been a boon, the bench shot back saying the order has not yet been complied with and how can it be a boon to anyone.
The court said the authorities cannot take the ground of COVID-19 pandemic for not producing the juveniles before the JJB within 24 hours and said when policing did not stop in the pandemic, it must also do all the documentation work.
Senior advocate HS Phoolka, amicus curiae in the matter, said the bench may direct the registrar of the court to send the order to the Juvenile Justice Boards for ensuring compliance.
The earlier order was passed keeping in view the mandate of Section 14 of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act (JJ Act) which says that the inquiry against a child who has allegedly committed a petty offence shall conclude in four months from the date of the first production before the board unless the period is extended for a maximum of two months.
The provision says that if the inquiry remains inconclusive, such proceedings shall stand terminated.
“In all cases alleging petty offences against children/juveniles, where the inquiry has been pending and remains inconclusive for longer than one year, regardless of whether the subject child/juvenile has been produced before the Juvenile Justice Board, all such inquiries shall stand terminated with immediate effect; a formal order closing all such matters shall be passed by the Juvenile Justice Boards in each file within two weeks from the date of this order, and any children/juveniles detained in relation to such inquiries, shall be released immediately without waiting for recording the formal orders, the bench had said.
The court was informed by the Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights that as of June 30 this year, 795 cases pertaining to petty offences by juveniles were pending before the six Juvenile Justice Boards in Delhi for a period between six months and one year and 1108 such cases are pending for more than one year.
“… meaning thereby that some 1903 petty cases are pending, which section 14 of the JJ Act mandates should stand terminated. Also, the data shows that the pendency figures for petty offences have increased by 44 per cent in just the last six months,” it had said, adding that the large pendency is a result of a flawed understanding of the statutory dispensation.
The bench was dealing with various issues pertaining to the interpretation and effective implementation of some provisions of the Juvenile Justice Act.
One of the issues raised was that of overlong pendency of a sizeable number of cases relating to ”petty offences” committed by juvenile delinquents, which are in fact required to ”stand terminated” as per section 14 of the Juvenile Justice Act.
Petty offences include those crimes for which the maximum punishment under the IPC or any other law for the time being in force is imprisonment up to three years.
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