On 8 January, the Central Bureau of Investigation submitted its latest status report in the Muzaffarpur shelter-home case to the Supreme Court, in a sealed envelope. The agency told the court that there had been no murders in the shelter home and that all the “35 girls were alive.” The Caravan’s ongoing investigation of the case revealed that the witness statements of over a dozen minors refuted the CBI’s claim. A further enquiry into the case’s legal documents has now unearthed glaring lacunae in the CBI’s investigation into the physical abuse and sexual exploitation of over thirty minors between 2013 and 2018. Over the course of its inquiry, the agency has deliberately ignored crucial leads—provided by over a dozen witnesses—which could have implicated the Bihar government’s social-welfare department at an institutional level and several high-profile politicians.
The documents show that the CBI’s chargesheet—which is in possession of The Caravan—was framed in a way that only the shelter home’s employees, its owner Brajesh Thakur and four government officials were held responsible for the sexual exploitation of the inmates. The CBI selectively charged only certain individuals who were accused in the witness statements. The agency refused to acknowledge the possible involvement of the state’s social-welfare department and powerful politicians in the case, despite them being named in these statements. The witnesses included at least seven victims, whose statements to the CBI had detailed physical descriptions of the “outsiders” visiting Balika Grih, the shelter home, regularly. The other witnesses include a tenant of Brajesh, neighbours and low-ranked officials of the state’s social welfare department. The tenant named at least two senior politicians; one sitting Rajya Sabha member and one former member of Bihar’s legislative council. The state officials detailed the vast network of government functionaries—involved in the running, monitoring and sanctioning of funds—whose connivance would have been essential to the goings-on at the shelter.
The Caravan is in possession of the statements of 33 victims, Brajesh’s tenant, neighbours and employees at his printing press, half a dozen government officials who were with the social-welfare department in the period under investigation, the first investigating officer who raided Balika Grih on 30 May 2018 and the chargesheet that the CBI had filed before a Bihar trial court in December 2018. All the statements were recorded by the CBI between September 2018 and December 2018, under Section 161 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.
The inquiry has been monitored by the Supreme Court since August 2018, two months after the case was registered, and a month after the investigation was transferred from the Bihar state police to the CBI. The agency updated the court regularly, but all its progress reports have been submitted in sealed envelopes so far. This has meant that a petitioner in the case, Nivedita Jha, and the citizenry have had to rely on the briefings to the court by the attorney general, KK Venugopal. This has further compromised an already murky investigation—as detailed in the first part of this series. Venugopal’s latest briefing as well as the chargesheet were silent on two major interventions by the Supreme Court wherein the apex court had taken note of the drawbacks in the inquiry and asked the CBI to investigate specific aspects of the case. The court had emphasised on a thorough investigation into Brajesh, including his political connections and the role of government officials in the case.
On 20 September 2018, even before the filing of the chargesheet, the Supreme Court had directed the CBI to investigate Brajesh thoroughly, including his political connections. The court had also asked the agency to explore the involvement of any and all “outsiders”—everyone not directly associated in running the shelter—and the state’s social-welfare department. The apex court reiterated these directions in a hearing on 3 June 2019. On 20 September 2018, the Supreme Court had said, “On a perusal of the status reports, there are a few areas that need to be further looked into by the CBI, they are as follows: … the CBI will need to look into the antecedents, connections and influence of Brajesh Thakur.” Apart from Balika Grih, which was financed by government funds, Brajesh also ran at least ten NGOs, was a Press Information Bureau-accredited journalist, owned a printing press and was a member of two advisory committees of the state government.