SC gives Centre more time to apprise about scheme for children orphaned due to COVID-19 pandemic

By PTI
NEW DELHI: The Centre told the Supreme Court on Monday that it needed some more time to apprise the court of the modalities on the recently launched ‘PM-CARES for Children’ scheme for kids orphaned by COVID-19.

The National Commission of Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) said West Bengal and Delhi have not been cooperating and have not provided latest data on the number of children who have lost their parents due to coronavirus.

A bench of Justices L N Rao and Aniruddha Bose was informed by Additional Solicitor General Aishwarya Bhati, appearing for the Centre, that they are in consultation with states and ministries to work out the modalities of the ‘PM-CARES for Children’ scheme.

“We need some more time to apprise the court about the modalities of the scheme as the consultation is still going on. We have made district magistrates directly responsible for the children who have been abandoned or have been orphaned,” Bhati said.

The bench said that it is inclined to give some more time to the Centre to formulate the modalities of the scheme and how they will implement it.

Additional Solicitor General K M Nataraj, appearing for NCPCR, told the bench it was facing difficulties with West Bengal and Delhi, who are not uploading the data of such children on ‘Bal Swaraj’.

Advocate Chirag Shorff, appearing for Delhi government, said their data is provided solely by Child Welfare Committees (CWC), while in other states different departments provide data to the district magistrates from where it is uploaded.

The Delhi government last week wrote to different departments like revenue and police and sought data from them, he said.

The bench said that Delhi should have a task force at district level like other states and upload the information as soon as they get it and the task force should attend to the immediate needs of the children.

“Don’t wait for orders of the court and implement all the relevant schemes,” the bench told the counsels of Delhi and West Bengal government.

It told the West Bengal counsel that the court has in its order stated that information regarding children, who have been orphaned after March 2020, is needed.

“All states have understood the directive properly but how can only West Bengal not understand the order,” the bench said, adding that the state has to direct the authorities concerned to provide all the data about the children.

Nataraj said by providing the necessary information, there will be continuous monitoring and it would help in protecting the rights of children.

The bench said it will issue some directions in its order, which may be uploaded by Tuesday.

Senior advocate Gaurav Agrawal, who has been appointed amicus in the matter, told the bench that identification process of such children has been satisfactory except for Tamil Nadu, where the situation is difficult in terms of COVID.

He said Tamil Nadu is only identifying those who have lost one or both parents due to COVID-19; the approach may not be very helpful in locating all children, who may have been affected due to the virus.

The bench said that it understands that COVID-19 positivity rate is high but there are Child Welfare Committees and Child Protection Units which need to be activated for identification and providing immediate assistance to those children.

Advocate Aristotle, appearing for Tamil Nadu, said that the state has come with a scheme under which it is paying Rs 5 lakh to the children, who have lost both the parents and Rs 3 lakh who have lost one parent.

The bench asked Aristotle to instruct the officers of the state that each of such children be identified by district officers/child care units and should be reported to Child Welfare Committees within 24 hours as per the Juvenile Justice Act.

The top court said that such children need continuous monitoring under which one person may be in-charge of 5-6 children.

On June 1, the top court had asked the Centre to provide information on the recently launched ‘PM-CARES for Children’ scheme for kids orphaned by COVID-19, and directed states to appoint nodal officers to apprise it on identification and welfare measures for such children.

The NCPCR, in its affidavit, said that as per the data given by states so far, 9,346 children have either lost both or one of the parents to the deadly virus.

As many as 1,742 children have lost both of their parents and 7,464 have lost one of the parents, the child rights body had said.

The top court had taken note of Agrawal that Prime Minister Narendra Modi on May 29 launched the scheme which aims to provide various reliefs to the children orphaned by the pandemic and he did not have much detail about.

Under ‘PM-CARES for Children’ scheme, various steps would be taken including providing a corpus of Rs 10 lakh when the beneficiary child turns 18 years old.

The fixed deposits will be opened in the names of such children, and the PM-CARES fund will contribute through a specially designed scheme to create a corpus of Rs 10 lakh for each of them, the government had said in a statement earlier The top court’s direction had come on an application filed by the amicus curiae in the pending suo motu case seeking identification of orphaned children due to COVID-19 or otherwise and providing them immediate relief by the state governments.