'The government failed. The officials chose not to hear the pleas of these helpless children.'
'Nothing can make things right for those girls now.'
Parveen Amanullah was the minister in charge of the social welfare department in Bihar from 2010 to 2014, but all her pleas of irregularities in the selection of NGOs to run shelter homes in the state were unheard by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar.
"If the government had seriously investigated the complaints about shelter homes, these girls would have been safe today," Amanullah, who joined the Aam Aadmi Party in 2014, tells Satyavrat Mishra.
The TISS social audit on the shelter homes in Bihar brought the rot in the system out into the open.
It presented a horrid picture of exploitation, cruelty and atrocities in these institutions.
As many as 34 girls were tormented at a shelter home in Muzaffarpur.
It's a shocking and disgusting incident. There are no words to criticise this intolerable act of cruelty.
Specifically, the Muzaffarpur shelter home case exposed the failure of the state government.
Those poor, helpless girls had already gone through enough. The state promised them comfort and security. And then it failed them.
The whole system, which was designed to protect these innocent orphan girls, collapsed.
The government failed to do its bidding. The officials chose not to hear the pleas of these helpless children.
Nothing can make things right for those girls now. However, the state government must make sure now that all those responsible are punished.
The shelter homes come under the social welfare department. You held that portfolio for almost four years. Why didn't you raise the alarm?
I came into politics to change the system, but soon found out that the people in power were not interested in it.
As a cabinet member, I did warn Chief Minister Nitish Kumar about the irregularities on several occasions, but he didn't pay heed.
I complained about the anomalies in the selection process of the NGOs, but my concerns were brushed aside. I did whatever I could as a minister.
I remember once a file was sent to me for giving approval to an NGO from Begusarai. There was no name of the president, secretary or treasurer in the file. I knew that the NGO was run by a known offender.
In another case, a senior bureaucrat had recommended approval for an NGO in Saran. I noticed that the NGO was run by a woman with a dubious track record.
I checked about the woman and found out that she had spent months in Beur jail in Patna on charges of a scam.
I refused to give approval in both the cases and asked the officials to investigate. They sat on the files for months.
I also took strong action against financial irregularities and put emphasis on strong monitoring.
I developed a strong complaint handling mechanism in the department and prevented several scams and scandals.
The officials of the social welfare department, however, created hurdles for me.
On numerous occasions, I have witnessed wrongdoings by bureaucrats.
I took action as much as a minister can and referred the cases that were above my level to the CM.
You are saying that the officials created hurdles to stop a minister from discharging her duties?
I did my job honestly, but the whole system was against my honesty. There was absolutely no support from the system.
Officials sat on the files for months. They never followed up on the investigations ordered by me.
The directives were not implemented and the departmental proceedings were kept away from me.
I had to ask them a thousand times to just get the file.
People were more interested in maintaining the status quo and protecting their own interests.
I was, literally, tired of this struggle with the corrupt system.
There was no support even from the CM?
No support at any level. This government, even before I joined it and after I left, has always been in the defensive position. Its focus has never been on rooting out the bad elements and punishing them for their deeds.
If the government had seriously investigated the complaints about shelter homes, these girls would have been safe today.
Did you complain to the CM about it? What was his response?
I did, on more than one occasion. However, my concerns were not noted. I sent him all the case files along with the evidence.
I requested fast-track enquiries against accused officials including the principal secretaries, secretaries, directors, etc. However, I never heard back from him. I don't think anything happened about my complaints.
This is why I resigned from the cabinet. I told Nitishji that the system is completely rotten and nobody wants to change it. He asked me to stay and promised that things would improve, but I refused.
I knew he had no intention of keeping his words. Otherwise, he would not have allowed my successor Manju Verma to absorb all the suspended child development and protection officers.
I had ordered departmental enquiries against these officials on the charges of negligence, corruption, etc. Later, the government even promoted them.
This means that the CM relies more on his officials than his cabinet colleagues.
Yes, indeed. Once in a meeting, I told him that we must do something about corruption. I suggested that he must devolve more power to tackle this issue, but he brushed it aside.
"Oh no, no, we have to do it ourselves" was his response.
Nitishji was all ears about policy matters and new welfare schemes, but he never listened to suggestions on devolution of power or transparency. He was more interested in keeping the power in his hands.
Now that all the power is with him, he must take all the blame too, answer all questions and allegations. He can't put the blame on the minister or officials now.
It was the CM who overlooked the signs of the catastrophe that was building up.
What should be the government's next step?
This definitely involves the department officials.
A minister cannot do much damage without the support of senior officials of the department.
The criminal investigation, which is being done by the Central Bureau of Investigation, is another thing.
Nitishji cannot turn away from his administrative responsibilities.
The government cannot hide behind the CBI inquiry or use it as an excuse to not to do anything.
The CM must order a full in-house sweep.
Every file in the department must be scrutinised.
The role of those involved in the selection of NGOs must be closely monitored.
What, how, why, when, where and who overlooked the facts?
Who defaulted on monitoring and why?
The role of the senior officials must also be examined. The government must fix their responsibilities. Their call records must be investigated.
The air is thick with speculation about which politician or official used to visit the shelter home.
The government must order an identification parade to identify them as soon as possible.
Only crying CBI! is not going to solve any problem.
What do you think of the government's response on this matter?
Very, very poor. The CM has not yet seen the files concerning the selection of the NGOs. He is too busy patting his own back for handing over the case to the CBI.
He is running away from his responsibility.
Nitish Kumar has recently announced that the government will run these shelter homes now. Do you think it will solve any problem?
CM toh bas yehi sab dhandha karte hain (That's all the CM ever does).
Those who couldn't monitor the system earlier, how can they be expected to run the new system efficiently?
They failed in a simple monitoring job and now they are being asked to run the whole system, the same thing will happen again.
What will Nitishji do then?
The bottomline is that he neglected his duties.
Had he been a strict administrator, this would never have happened in the first place.
Had your system been as good as you say, the girls would have been safe in the NGOs.