Facing criticism over alleged sexual exploitation at a shelter home for minors in Muzaffarpur, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar Friday said the incident has shamed the government, adding that those found guilty will be 'severely punished', reported news agency ANI. Kumar also said the case had been handed over to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and that he wants the Patna High Court to monitor the probe. This is the Chief Minister’s first statement in connection with the case, which has rocked the Bihar Legislative Assembly and found mention in the on-going monsoon session of Parliament.
“Muzaffarpur mein aisi ghatana ghat gayi ki hum sharamsaar ho gaye. CBI jaanch kar rahi hai, High Court iski monitoring kare (The incident in Muzaffarpur has shamed us. The CBI is investigating it and I want the High Court to monitor it),” he was quoted as saying by ANI. “I would like to assure everyone that no leniency will be shown towards anyone, and all those found guilty will be severely punished.”
Kumar’s statement comes a day after the Supreme Court took suo moto cognizance of the allegations. Kumar’s JD(S) is in coalition with the BJP in the state.
Meanwhile, the opposition led by the RJD has been criticising the state government over the issue. The party is organising a protest at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi on Saturday. Talking to ANI, Former deputy CM Teajshwi Yadav said that Congress president Rahul Gandhi has also confirmed his presence in the protest. Yadav has demanded Nitish’s resignation over the issue.
The Bihar government had filed several cases after a report by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) alleged sexual and physical abuse of inmates at several short stay homes in the state. The gravest case was reported from a home for minors in Muzaffarpur. Medical reports of 29 out of 34 inmates suggested sexual exploitation. At least 10 people have been arrested in connection with this case, including prime accused Brajesh Thakur, who is the owner of the NGO.
Nine others have been arrested and another accused is on the run.The case came to light following a report by Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) in April which said that the shelter was being run in a “highly questionable manner” and that “several girls (had) reported about violence and being abused sexually”.
Last week, The Indian Express reported on a string of alleged irregularities at the NGO — how Thakur got another contract from the government despite the TISS report, how he allegedly inflated his newspaper figures to get state government advertisements and how his NGO had a “ghost” secretary no official had interacted with.
The Hindi daily owned by Brajesh Thakur, main accused in the case pertaining to alleged sexual exploitation of minors at a shelter in Muzaffarpur, barely published 300 copies daily, but its daily circulation was shown as 60,862 copies. The daily, Pratah Kamal, would get advertisements worth nearly Rs 30 lakh per year from the Bihar government, sources said. Police said Thakur did not have enough staffers or a good printing machine to publish the number of copies it claimed to.
State police, which has handed over the case to the CBI, has said in its supervision report, “Thakur’s newspaper barely published 300 copies”. However, according to figures with the state Information and Public Relations Department (IPRD), the newspaper had a daily circulation of 60,862 copies.
According to police, when Thakur was asked about his claims of a daily circulation of 60,000, he could not give a convincing reply. The Indian Express had also seen only a computer operator and editor of News Next and Thakur’s daughter Ankita Anand at the office. All three publications come out from the same premises, on which the shelter was also located.
A newspapers agent at Muzaffarpur, Ratan Jha, told The Indian Express, “I have been selling Hindi and English dailies in Muzaffarpur and other parts of North Bihar for several years. I did not get any customer who would subscribe to Pratah Kamal…nor is it sold at any newspapers’ stand.”
A source added, “Thakur’s staffers would deliver copies of Pratah Kamal to all government offices and some people would get to read it at these offices.”
The IPRD has discontinued advertisements to the paper after a case was filed against Thakur and 10 others in the case pertaining to alleged sexual exploitation at the shelter run by Thakur’s NGO. An IPRD official said, “Brajesh Thakur has been an accreditated journalist with us for over 25 years. He has also been a member of Press accreditation committee for three terms (two years each).”
Asked how he could become a member of such an important committee thrice, the official said, “The committee members are decided by minister of the department. He is not in the current committee which was selected by the CM.” Explaining how Thakur’s newspaper could get regular advertisements, another IPRD official said advertisements are often given out as per circulation which is ratified by Directorate of Audio Visual Publicity.
“Since Pratah Kamal was a Muzaffarpur-based newspaper, it had been getting advertisements related to government schemes in North Bihar,” said the official, adding that Pratah Kamal has to be paid Rs 1.97 lakh for advertisements published in it in April.
Deputy director, advertisement, IPRD, Ravi Bhushan Sahay said, “We have already cancelled the accreditation of Brajesh Thakur. As for advertisement figures, we do not keep record of cumulative advertisement amount figures.”