"In the absence of an alternative solution that can be accepted on the basis of the Child Welfare Service assessments and the best interests of the children, the children may have to remain in the care of the public authorities," a letter from Gunnar Torensen, head of the CPS in Stavanger, says.
Is time running out for the Bhattacharya family seeking to bring its children — currently held by the Child Protection Service here — back to India?
The toddlers, Abhigyan and Aishwarya, were taken into protective custody last May after the Child Welfare Services (CWS) in Stavanger (also referred to as the CPS) determined that the Bhattacharyas were unfit to look after them. After a diplomatic row between New Delhi and Oslo, the CPS agreed to hand over the children to their uncle.
In an exclusive interview with The Hindu, Gunnar Torensen, head of the CPS in Stavanger, warned that unless documents expressly requested from — and promised by — the Indian government were received a week before the March 23 District Court hearing, the resolution of the case, so painfully worked out with Mr. Bhattacharya's brother, could be seriously compromised.
“We have repeatedly asked the Indian government for detailed legal documents on the issues of custody, special needs follow-up for Abhigyan and a clarification of the ‘strong legislative and institutional mechanisms to protect the interests of the children after their return to India' that the Indian authorities say they can provide. But we have received no papers so far. Time is running out and unless the documents are sent a week before the hearing, the case cannot proceed,” Mr. Torensen said. The children then “may have to remain in the care of the public authorities.”
In a letter sent to the Indian Embassy in Oslo on January 20, 2012, the CWS chief laid down three preconditions for the return of the children. The first was papers pertaining to the transfer of their legal custody, the second on the Indian government's “institutional mechanisms” and the third on the medical and special needs follow-up of the Bhattacharyas' son. On not receiving an adequate reply, the CWS reiterated its urgent request for the papers on March 5.
“Legal documents must be provided, based on an agreement between the parents and the uncle, which establishes the formal responsibility of the uncle for the children under Indian law. It must be established that the uncle has formal legal authority over the children under Indian law and that his right to take decisions on behalf of the children will not be questioned or disregarded by the family members,” the letter reads.
Foreign Minister Jonas Store also expressed similar concern for the children, telling The Hindu that Norway was a country governed by the rule of law and that courts and their decisions could be questioned via the appeals process but not disregarded.
The CWS is worried that the uncle's claim to custody could be diluted or refuted by grandparents from the mother's side or other family members. This, they feel, will not be in the interest of the children. But the Bhattacharyas appear clueless about what they were expected to do.
“We have received no instructions whatsoever. We do not know if the documents are being prepared in Delhi or here. When and where and how will they be signed and in whose presence? Which school will the boy attend, how to look for that school? All this remains a mystery to us and we are receiving no guidance at all. After showing so much power and obtaining a compromise which is acceptable to all it would be terrible if we were to be let down by our own government,” Dr. Arunabhas Bhattacharya, the children’s uncle, who is expected to take custody of the children told The Hindu.
"The boy has been diagnosed with attachment disorder and is likely to require special educational assistance. The work must be carried out by qualified specialists… treatment in India will inevitably incur costs. The Indian authorities must address these challenges and must provide evidence that the children will receive adequate treatment,” Mr. Torensen’s letter states.
"All these questions have to receive satisfactory answers before a solution to the case can be found,” Mr. Torensen told this correspondent. "Because our aim is to demonstrate to the court that the children's needs will be met in India. Without these answers, the Welfare Service will not be in a position to endorse the decision to award custody to the uncle."
The last paragraph of the letter makes for uncomfortable reading: “If adequate information is not provided, this will also mean that the court will not be able to take a decision in the case. In the absence of an alternative solution that can be accepted on the basis of the Child Welfare Service assessments and the best interests of the children, the children may have to remain in the care of the public authorities".
The Indian Embassy in Oslo assured The Hindu that it had matters “completely in hand” and that the relevant documents would be delivered to the Child Welfare Services by the March 17 deadline. Officials here indicated that consular officer Balachandran had made as many as six trips to Stavanger to meet the family, and that he was presently in Stavanger talking to the family.
The consent for the transfer of custody to the uncle was given by the parents. This has now to be made a legally binding document under the Indian law through affidavits filed by the couple and the brother and which will be notarised by the Indian Embassy. The Hindu has also learnt that Secretary (West) Mr. Ganapathi had asked his Joint Secretary to undertake a trip to Kolkata to make an inventory of possible schools or institutions offering specialised care for children with special needs. The children’s father will also have to provide a financial guarantee that he will pay for the education of the children when they return home. There appears to be some expectation on the part of the family that the Stavanger Kommune should foot the bill for that, but that would be neither realistic nor feasible, The Hindu was told.