New Delhi, Jan. 17: Police must register a first information report (FIR) on every complaint about a missing child and every police station must have an officer dedicated to children's protection, the Supreme Court said today.
This means, the police can no longer use the age-old device of the general diary, which allowed them to sit on complaints forever.
An FIR forces the police to report to a magistrate, who monitors the progress of investigation and whose permission is necessary to close the case. A general diary allows the police to avoid the trouble of investigation, arrests, chargesheets and prosecution. It has a shelf life of two years, after which it is trashed.
The court also accepted a National Human Rights Commission recommendation to have a "special juvenile police unit" in every district, and a child welfare officer or special juvenile police officer in every police station to look after children in need of protection or in conflict with the law.
A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Altamas Kabir passed these directives while hearing a public interest litigation from the Bachpan Bachao Andolan, which cited official statistics that 1.17 lakh children were reported missing in 2008-10 but the police registered only 20,000 FIRs.
The court had last month asked all states to explain what they had done to trace missing children. It today summoned on February 5 the chief secretaries of six states that did not reply: Goa, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Arunachal, Odisha and Himachal.
Under the Raj, almost every police complaint was expected to lead to an FIR but practices changed as cases burgeoned after Independence. In 2009, the Union home ministry told the police to file an FIR on every criminal complaint, but to little avail.
India's police are notorious for refusing to lodge FIRs, especially if the complainants are poor. The police had fobbed off the parents of girls missing from Noida's Nithari village for months till a mass grave spilled 19 skeletons.
In 2009, an RTI application found out that less than 12 per cent of rape complaints are turned into FIRs.