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Bihar Shelter Home Convictions Huge Boost for Those Trying to Reform System from Within: Official

File photo of CBI and Central Forensic Science Laboratory (CFSL) officials investigating the shelter home in Muzaffarpur last year. (PTI)

File photo of CBI and Central Forensic Science Laboratory (CFSL) officials investigating the shelter home in Muzaffarpur last year. (PTI)

Atul Prasad, who is now the Additional Chief Secretary of the Social Welfare Department in Bihar, said everyone involved in the process, which led to the convictions in the court, would get a huge boost from Monday's judgment.

New Delhi: The person, who commissioned the audit report on child shelter homes in Bihar that revealed rampant sexual abuse of minor girls, and on Monday, led to the conviction of 19 people, accused including Politician Brajesh Thakur, said the court ruling was a victory for those who wanted to reform the system from within.

In an interview with News18, Atul Prasad, who is now Additional Chief Secretary of the Social Welfare Department in Bihar, said everyone involved in the process, which led to the convictions in the court, would get a huge boost from Monday's judgment.

Edited Excerpts:

How do you see the court ruling?

When I commissioned the report, neither the agency which was doing the social audit from Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) nor anyone in the bureaucracy had an inkling of how bad the situation was. The idea was to find out the loopholes in the system that is meant to protect vulnerable children, to reward those who were doing their jobs well and to punish those who were not.

But in hindsight, the events of the last one year, have been positively encouraging. Monday’s verdict will increase the motivation of those who want to weed out bad elements from the system and improve public services and will be a deterrent for those who think they are beyond the law of the land.

If the judgment had not gone in our favour, I think there would have been a sense of complacency. The judgment is even more effective since government officials are also convicted. Getting conviction of 19 of the 20 accused, I think, is a job well done.

Since these ugly revelations were reported almost a year ago, what has been the response from your department?

We have been working intensively on every front possible to improve the system and introduce reforms wherever necessary. I think within a span of a year, we have made decent progress. We brought in qualitative improvements in the working of shelter homes, we improved their infrastructure, increased manpower, introduced sensitisation courses, built a robust mechanism to report crimes and installed CCTVs in the homes. We also introduced better facilities for their education, recreation and health.

We also thought the reasons children were put up at these shelter homes in the first place. Some who had been separated from their parents, we reunited them. We revisited all the shelter homes again to check whether the steps we had introduced were really working. There are many more programmes in pipeline — we are going to set up control rooms to monitor the shelter homes and have almost finished a project of building a child-friendly court in every district of the state.

And all this while there has been no political interference?

I know, journalists find it difficult to believe. But that is the truth. As I said, when I commissioned the report, nobody had a clue of what was going to be revealed. And when the findings were made public, police immediately jumped into action to nab the accused and we did our best to counsel and rehabilitate the victims. I think the sense in our department is 'der aaye durust aaye' (better late than never). I think whenever we retire, we will have the pleasure of knowing that we rescued those girls and brought smiles on their faces.

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