The price to pay
The quick succession in which the shelter home abuse cases were reported from Muzaffarpur in Bihar and Deoria in Uttar Pradesh points to the sorry state of affairs at the thousands of other shelter homes for destitute and orphan girls and boys across the country. Run with the financial help doled out by the state government, most of these shelter homes are a picture of apathy and neglect. Government departments entrusted with the task of running these homes hardly pay enough attention to how these homes are actually running. And, the result is appalling. While the government in both the states have swiftly moved to a damage control mode, shifting and suspending officials and handing over the investigation to CBI, they have so far not accepted that these incidents constitute a serious lapse of administration and that the government is as much responsible for not providing a safe and comfortable environment to young inmates of these shelter homes. Though the Centre maintains a full-fledged Ministry of Child and Family Development and the state governments Social Welfare Ministry, they have seldom been noticed for any path-breaking initiative. They seem to run routine schemes in association with NGOs and do not monitor the progress of their projects and plans on a sustained basis, leaving the scope for malpractices and laxity in administration. In a country where the population is large and mostly poor, there is a great number of people who need the support of shelter homes. If the government does not come forward and help these people with an adequate measure of social security, these people will fall prey to human traffickers or die of starvation. Any government that claims to be working for the people and not for the vested interests must take responsibility of these people and provide necessary support so that they can also live with dignity and have a meaningful life.
The governments over the years have developed a tendency to hand over the implementation part of much of their work to NGOs. But selecting the NGO which can work honestly and maintain a degree of credibility is a tough call in the current atmosphere where most of the NGOs are in a race to make more money. Government schemes are a major source of their revenue and they do not mind in striking questionable deals with politicians, middlemen and power brokers. The key accused in the Muzaffarpur shelter home abuse case, Brajesh Thakur, had nearly 30 NGOs registered under his name for various purposes. Besides running a couple of nondescript newspapers and the shelter home for young girls, Thakur was running another shelter home for women where poor women were supposed to be given vocational training. When the police reached this shelter home for women in the wake of gross malpractices found at the girls' shelter home, they found the gates locked and all the 11 inmates missing. Thakur and his father were accredited as journalists with the state government. In fact, his father was even the member of the committee that decided who were to be given the press accreditation. Thakur had developed close relations with politicians cutting across party lines. Bihar's Social Welfare Minister Manju Verma has tendered her resignation from the state cabinet after the name of her husband, Chandrasekhar Verma, a ruling party MLA from a constituency, figured in the scandal. The MLA is said to be a frequent visitor to the girl's shelter home, where he is reported to be spending two-three hours on the third floor of the facility.
The governments which do not keep a strict watch on the functioning of its departments and officials have to pay for it. At a crucial juncture, when Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar is uncertain about his political future in the wake of RJD's resurgence as a potent political force and BJP not ready to give many seats to JD(U) for the upcoming Lok Sabha election, the JD(U) chief has to answer some uncomfortable questions about his promise to provide a strict administration in the state. With a Minister from his Cabinet already resigning and an MLA seriously embroiled in the case, the matter is far from over. The CBI is investigating the case and the Patna High Court is monitoring its progress. In the days to come, there would be more damning revelations and that will be a bad news for Nitish Kumar. It is better that other governments take appropriate lessons from the Bihar scandal and keep their shelter homes in order.