On 28 January 2020, a special court in Saket, in Delhi, will sentence the 19 people convicted in a case related to a shelter home in Muzaffarpur, Bihar. Just over a week earlier, the court—which deals with offences under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012—had convicted all but two of the 21 accused chargesheeted by the Central Bureau of Investigation, on charges of rape, gang rape, physical and sexual assault, criminal conspiracy, and other offences punishable under the act. The Caravan’s ongoing investigation of the case has revealed that the CBI chose not to examine several leads provided in a supervision report by the Bihar police, whose inquiry preceded the agency’s. This report, which The Caravan accessed, included the names of at least nine people—senior members of the state administration, officers of the Indian Administrative Services, a then cabinet minister of Bihar and a consultant with the UNICEF, among others—who were reportedly aware of the sexual and physical abuse of over thirty minors at the shelter home between 2013 and 2018. The case came to light around April 2018, after the Tata Institute of Social Sciences conducted an independent audit that identified at least 17 shelter homes across Bihar as abusive. The Muzaffarpur shelter home—named Balika Grih and run by Brajesh Thakur, who then became the main accused and was recently convicted—was among these.
The CBI’s failure to follow up on crucial evidence submitted by the state police follows a pattern: The Caravan had earlier unearthed how witness statements of minors refuted the CBI’s claim that no murders took place at the shelter home, and how the agency deliberately ignored leads provided by witnesses which could have implicated the Bihar government’s social-welfare department and several high-profile politicians.
The supervision report, a summary of the progress in the investigation, was authored by Mukul Ranjan, the then deputy superintendent of police of Muzaffarpur town. Ranjan signed the report on 3 July 2018, over a month after the case related to Muzaffarpur was first registered. Towards the end of July 2018, however, the CBI took over the investigation from the Bihar police, based on recommendations by the chief minister Nitish Kumar’s government. Incidentally, the CBI was formally handed over the case on 28 July, the same day that the state police filed a chargesheet in the case before a local court in Bihar. Less than a week later, in August 2018, the Supreme Court decided to monitor the investigation and asked the agency for regular updates. The trial in the case first commenced at a local court in Bihar in July 2018, but was later shifted to the Saket court in February 2019, on the apex court’s order.
In March 2019, while the CBI’s investigation was ongoing, Nivedita Jha, a Patna-based journalist, filed a petition in the Supreme Court alleging that the agency’s probe was “hogwash” as it overlooked various aspects of evidence. Jha’s petition noted that leads on minors who were murdered at the shelter home and the alleged involvement of politicians, officials and outsiders in the abuse and trafficking of minors, had been overlooked by the CBI. The court ordered the agency to look into Jha’s claims in June 2019. In January this year, the CBI informed the Supreme Court that it had completed investigations into all shelter homes that were named in the TISS audit. The CBI told the court that “all 35 girls are alive,” and said there was no evidence on the allegations raised by Jha.
It is in this context that the findings of the supervision report are significant. The report consists of statements by the victims; a neighbour of Thakur; Ravi Kumar Raushan, the then child protection officer and one of the convicted persons; an independent witness; comments and a conclusion by Jyoti Kumari, the first investigating officer in the case; and recommendations by Ranjan. It contains various leads that point towards the possible complicity of senior IAS officers such as Atul Prasad; officers of the state’s social-welfare department such as Raj Kumar, an IAS officer and the director of the social-welfare directorate; politicians, such as the then state minister for social welfare, Manju Verma; and even a UNICEF consultant named Rakesh Kumar, among others.