The Centre and several state governments on Tuesday came in for sharp criticism by the Supreme Court for their failure to file status reports on the issue of missing children, with the bench saying that nobody seemed to be concerned about them.
The apex court also came down heavily on the chief secretaries of Arunachal Pradesh, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu for their failure to comply with its order to be present before it on Tuesday on the issue. The bench observed that they are "playing the fool with the court" and threatened to issue non-bailable warrants against them.
The bench, headed by Chief Justice Altamas Kabir, gave a last opportunity to the Centre and those states which have not filed their affidavits on the matter. The court posted the matter for further hearing on February 19.
"Nobody seems to be concerned about the missing children. This is the irony," the bench comprising justices A R Dave and Vikramajit Sen said when senior advocate H S Phoolka, appearing for the NGO Bachpan Bachao Andolan, stated that hundreds of children were going missing everyday.
The bench was upset at the outset when it was told that the chief secretaries of Arunachal Pradesh, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu were not present despite its earlier order.
Of the five states whose chief secretaries were asked to appear, only the chief secretaries of Goa and Orissa were present.
"Why are they not present? Shall we issue a non-bailable warrant? They are playing the fool with the court. They can't say they are indisposed. Don't play fools with this court.
There was a direction, they had to be present here," the bench said when counsel for the Arunachal Pradesh government sought am exemption from personal appearance for its chief secretary.
Similar remarks were made by the court over the non-appearance of the chief secretaries of Gujarat and Tamil Nadu.
The NGO, in its PIL, had alleged that over 1.7 lakh children had gone missing in the country between January 2008 and January 2010, many of whom were kidnapped for trafficking in flesh trade and child labour.
Quoting statistics from the National Crime Research Bureau, the NGO had said that during that period, 1,17,480 children had gone missing in 392 districts in the country and of these, 41,546 were yet to be traced.
The apex court also disagreed with the reason provided by the Gujarat government -- that the chief secretary had been recently appointed and, therefore, he could not appear before it.
"It doesn't matter. The order is passed by this court and you are required (to be present)," the bench said.
It also took exception to a plea seeking exemption from personal appearance of the chief secretary of Tamil Nadu.
"We will issue non-bailable warrants next time," it said.
"What do you think? We pass orders just for the sake of passing orders," the court asked.
The bench rejected the plea for personal exemptions, saying, "In spite of our order on January 17, the said three officials have once again thought it fit to treat the matter with extreme casualness as if the order passed by this court has no meaning."
The judges made it clear that the chief secretaries have to appear personally and not through their representatives.
"As far as other states are concerned, we are giving them the last opportunity to file their status report," the court said.
The bench also took an exception to the submission by the West Bengal government’s counsel that the status report has not been filed as there had been no instruction on the issue.
"Why don't you wake up from your slumber? Why are you appearing in the matter," the court said while also taking strong exception to the failure of the Delhi government to file the status report on the issue.
It noted that the Union Territories which are governed by the Centre were the biggest defaulters.
The court also said that there were two counsels for the Centre, including Additional Solicitor General A S Chandhiok, but there seemed to be no coordination.
"The left hand doesn't know what is there in the right hand," it said, adding, "You are the biggest defaulters. You have no concern about children's issues. Who is the person responsible? Shall we call him?"
The ASG said he will place that on record whatever he has to say.
The apex court concluded Tuesday's hearing by asking the ASG to file appropriate status reports on behalf of the ministries of women and child welfare, social welfare and home affairs.
The court noted that not only the Centre, but even the governments of Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Meghalaya, Uttrakhand, West Bengal and Union Territories of Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Chandigarh, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Daman and Diu, NCT of Delhi and Lakhshadweep have not filed their status reports.
The court had on January 17 directed the state governments -- which had failed to file their response earlier -- to do so by February 5 while stating that if they failed to do so, then their chief secretaries would have to appear before it.
The apex court had last year issued notices to the Centre, the states and the UTs -- directing them to file their response on the issue of missing children.