The Supreme Court on December 13 disposed of a writ petition filed by activist Enakshi Ganguly alleging that minors aged under 18 and as young as nine were illegally detained in the Valley following the abrogation of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 on August 5.
The court relied on a detailed ground report submitted by the Jammu and Kashmir High Court Juvenile Justice Committee led by Justice Ali Mohammad Magrey and three other High Court judges who made visits to the detention centres and jails to check the veracity of reports published in international and domestic media that children were detained. The committee said it did not find any children under detention.
A three-judge Bench led by Justice N.V. Ramana, before closing the case, observed the court has no reason to disbelieve the report made by the four judges.
The apex court said that in case of any further allegations of illegal detentions or need for medical help, the persons concerned could approach the appropriate fora. It said the State should assist in providing facilities and expert care to children in need of psychological care.
During the hearing, Ms. Ganguly, represented by senior advocate Huzeifa Ahmadi and advocate Shahrukh Alam, said the government’s own records showed that children were kept under preventive detention. Mr. Ahmadi said the law did not allow a child to be kept under preventive detention. The Public Safety Act did not apply to children.
Justice R. Subhash Reddy reasoned orally that children may have been rescued from violence, detained for a few hours and sent home on the same day. He said this would have been done for the child’s own safety. “Sometimes it is safe for them also. Or they may get hurt… In Hyderabad, schoolchildren were agitating. They were taken to police stations and kept for two or three hours or somewhere else. Can we call that detention?” Justice Reddy said.
Justice B.R. Gavai remarked that children aged 15 and 16 were also capable of breaking the law. “Do you know what children of 15 and 16 years are capable of doing” he asked.
Mr. Ahmadi replied that all 15 and 16-year-olds cannot be painted with the same brush.
Mr. Gavai said the word “preventive” detention in the police reports may have been an oversight by the person who drafted it. He would not have meant it.
“The DGP signed the report…,” Mr. Ahmadi responded.
Justice Gavai said someone might have prepared the report and the DGP may have just signed the document.
Mr. Ahmadi had objected to the first report filed by the judges’ committee, saying it merely reproduced the information provided by the J&K police chief without any independent application of mind by the judges to what was true.
In that report, the committee quoted the police chief that “no child has been kept or taken into illegal detention by police authorities”. The police chief had said juveniles found in conflict with law were “strictly dealt in accordance under the Juvenile Justice Act”. The report had recorded his version that lawful process was followed when investigating agencies establish the involvement of minors in pelting of stones, rioting or causing damage to public or private property.