Taking a serious view of the non appearance of the Chief Secretaries of Arunachal Pradesh, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu, the Supreme Court on Tuesday summoned them to appear in the court on February 19 for failure to respond to notice in the case relating to `missing children’.

On January 17 a three-judge Bench headed by the Chief Justice of India Altamas Kabir had directed the personal appearance of the Chief Secretaries of these States in addition to the States of Odisha and Goa. During the resumed hearing on Tuesday before a Bench of the CJI and Justices Anil R. Dave and Vikramajit Sen, only the Chief Secretaries of Odisha and Goa were present and on behalf of the other States applications seeking exemption were filed.

The CJI expressed his displeasure over the non appearance of the three Chief Secretaries and told the counsel for the respective States "you are playing fool with the court. Nobody seems to be concerned about missing children. This is the irony."

The Bench was hearing a writ petition filed by Bachpan Bachao Andolan complaining about missing children across the country. Senior counsel H. S. Phoolka, appearing for the petitioner told the court that hundreds of children were going missing everyday and the States were insensitive on this issue.

The CJI told the counsel when there was a specific direction for them to appear “they can't say they are indisposed. They had to be present here. What do you think? We pass orders just for the sake of passing orders?”

The Bench rejected the applications for personal exemption of the Chief Secretaries of the three States. In its order the Bench said "In spite of our January 17 order, the said three officials have once again thought it fit to treat the matter with extreme casualness as if the order passed by this court has no meaning." The Bench said the Chief Secretaries should appear personally and not through their representatives. “As far as other states are concerned, we are giving them last opportunity to file their status report," the Bench said.

The petitioner said the issue of missing children had a national magnitude which required coordination of various central and State authorities and also civil societies to tackle this menace. One of the major issues with respect to tackling the issue of missing children in India was the fact that the term 'Missing Children' had not been defined in any statute in India. Therefore the cases of missing children were not being handled properly and the fate of such children were completely dependent on the whims and fancies of the authorities. The statute recognised only abduction and kidnapping.

It said the proportion of traced and untraced children “gives a shocking figure for those who are still missing.” It said 41,546 untraced children constituted more than 1/3rd of the total children reported missing. The figure of missing children would go up further as eight States and three UTs had not furnished data of missing children. The petition said these missing children were being exploited as forced labour, commercial sexual workers and in illegal adoption racket. It sought a direction to the Centre, States and UTs to come out with a national action plan; to treat the offence of kidnapping or trafficking of children as non-bailable and cognisable offence and to prepare a national data base on missing children.