On 11 February, a special court in Saket, in Delhi, will decide the quantum of sentences to be awarded to the 19 people convicted in the Muzaffarpur shelter-home case. The Caravan’s ongoing investigation of the case has revealed that the rehabilitation of the affected minors was overseen by bureaucrats who were reportedly aware of the sexual exploitation of over 30 minors at Balika Grih between 2013 and 2018, yet kept silent. The Caravan has identified at least two bureaucrats and three senior officials who were made part of a rehabilitation committee, which was set up by the state government under the directions of the Supreme Court. The committee held its first meeting on 28 August 2018. Among them, two bureaucrats and one senior official had been named in a report by the Bihar police on 3 July that year; and Central Bureau of Investigation raided the home of at least one of them, just a week before the committee’s first meeting. Yet none of the three made it to the agency’s chargesheet filed in December 2018. The other two were prosecution witnesses.
The revelations came to light from the minutes of the meetings of the rehabilitation committee accessed by The Caravan. The committee includes members from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, NIMHANS, a national mental-health institute, UNICEF and representatives of the Bihar government. Among the officers in the committee, the most egregious inclusions are Raj Kumar, Sunil Jha and Atul Prasad. Kumar is an officer of the Indian Administrative Services and now the director of the social-welfare directorate and the directorate of empowerment of persons with disabilities. He is third in the chain of command at the state’s social-welfare department. As The Caravan previously reported, the Bihar police had come down heavily on Kumar and marked him for further investigation since Kumar “knew a first-information report can be lodged, still never ordered an internal probe.” The police, in a supervision report with conclusions regarding further investigation of the case, had recommended that Kumar be interrogated immediately for his suspected role. Despite this, Kumar headed the first meeting of the rehabilitation committee. He did not respond to multiple calls and text messages.
Jha is a senior consultant with the State Child Protection Society—a state-level government body responsible for implementing child-protection schemes. Jha was appointed as a coordinator between government officials and the external agencies in the first meeting. He was first named in June 2018 by Ravi Kumar Raushan, one of the individuals accused in the case who served as a child protection officer. Raushan was convicted on multiple counts of sexual abuse. Raushan had told the Bihar police that “another man called Sunil Jha who too knew what was happening at the Balika Grih and yet remained quiet about it.” However, the report did not identify Jha or his designation. I tracked down Jha and asked if his name appeared in the Bihar police’s report. “I’m not aware of it,” he said. However, when I asked if the Bihar police ever questioned him, he told me, “I cannot reveal that. I’m not authorized to speak to you. Whatever investigation was there has already been done.” Jha admitted that the CBI raided his house in August 2018, but refused to share any details of his questioning. “I’m only answerable to the investigative agency and I’ve done that.”
Prasad was a principle secretary of the Bihar government in 2018 and is now an additional chief-secretary. He chaired a rehabilitation-committee meeting held on 11 October 2018. The Bihar police report had also named Prasad and raised suspicion on his conduct. According to the report, Prasad had called for a state-level meeting on 26 May 2018, four days before the case in the incident was registered, to discuss the TISS audit report highlighting sexual abuse of children in Bihar’s 17 shelter homes, including Balika Grih. The police had questioned why Prasad did not order any immediate action “even after a state level meeting was held on the issue.” Prasad, too did not respond to calls or text messages.
As The Caravan reported earlier, Prasad and Kumar’s decisions regarding the transfer and movement of the residents of Balika Grih contributed to the obfuscation of the number of minors involved in the investigation right from the beginning. According to Devesh Sharma, then the assistant director of the social-welfare department, who registered the first complaint against the Balika Grih, it was Kumar who ordered the transfer of all the minors at Balika Grih on 28 May, two days before the complaint was filed. However, in a media interview in January 2019, Prasad argued that the shift was carried out on his “personal order” and many officials in the department were not aware because he believed “some of our own people were involved.”