Supreme Court of India (File Photo- PTI)
The Supreme Court on Thursday termed as “very disturbing” the facts emerging from CBI’s probe into the Muzzafarpur shelter home sexual abuse case and asked the Bihar Police to probe the alleged recovery of large quantity of ammunition from former state minister Manju Verma and her husband.
Manju Verma had resigned as the Social Welfare Minister in the Bihar government following the Muzzafarpur case where several women were raped and sexually abused, after it came to light that her husband Chandrashekhar Verma had spoken to prime accused Brajesh Thakur several times between January and June this year.
The apex court, which observed that CBI’s probe in the case seemed to be on track, said it was not clear whether illegal arms were also recovered from the possession of the Vermas and the matter needed to be looked into by the local police.
Taking note of the facts emerging from the two status reports filed by the CBI, a bench of Justices Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta said that Thakur appeared to be a “very influential” man, as his neighbours were scared to file any complaint against him despite the fact that they had heard screams of girls from the shelter home.
The bench said “it has also come on record that one Chandrashekhar Verma and his wife Manju Verma have been in possession of illegal ammunition of a fairly large quantity. It is not clear whether they were in possession of illegal arms as well. The status report mentions that an FIR has been lodged against Chandrashekhar Verma and Manju Verma.”
“The affairs of these two need to be looked into, particularly with regard to their procurement and possession of illegal ammunition and availability of illegal weapons, if any. We request the local police in the state of Bihar to look into this aspect with some degree of seriousness,” it said.
The bench took note of the fact that the state’s social welfare department had shifted some girls from the shelter home run by Brajesh Thakur in March this year, but the purpose of shifting was not clear.
“The status report also mentions that some girls were transferred on March 20, 2018 by social welfare department from the shelter home, which is the subject matter of present investigation by the CBI,” it said.
It is not clear why these girls were transferred out, particularly when the report given by Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) about the status of the shelter home was known to the state in May, the bench observed.
“The transfer seems to suggest that the social welfare department of the Government of Bihar was aware of certain unsavoury activities in the shelter home and that may have been the reason for transfer of the victim girls,” it said.
“The CBI should seize the record of the social welfare department in this regard and carry out the investigation,” it said and asked Bihar to file an affidavit indicating the circumstances necessitating the transfer of these girls.
Regarding Thakur, the bench said “it appears that the person in-charge of the NGO ‘Sewa Sankalp Evam Vikas Samiti’, Brajesh Thakur, is a very influential person and people in the neighbourhood are scared of him and not able to make any complaint against him.”
“In fact it has come out that people in the neighbourhood have heard screaming by the girls in the shelter home but they did not bring it to the notice of anybody because of the apparent terror of Brajesh Thakur. The CBI will need to look into the antecedents, connections and influence of Brajesh Thakur,’ the bench said.
Referring to the CBI’s reports, it said the NGO had received around Rs 4.5 crore worth of funds from the state over a period of 10 years and 35 vehicles were purchased.
“The other assets of the NGO or Brajesh Thakur do not appear to be very clear. It is necessary, in our opinion, that the Income Tax Department should look into the income and assets of Brajesh Thakur and indeed of the NGO Sewa Sankalp Evam Vikas Samiti,” it said.
“The CBI team should request the Chief Commissioner/Commissioner having jurisdiction in the area to look into this matter and investigate the affairs of the NGO and of Brajesh Thakur from the income tax angle,” it said.
The apex court said that issues concerning the shelter home was of an “extremely serious nature” and requires a “greater in-depth scrutiny” by the CBI.
It also directed the agency to file their next status report of investigation before it in a sealed cover within four weeks.
Earlier during the hearing, the bench said it had perused the two status reports filed by the CBI and the facts indicated that what had happened was “very disturbing”.
“There is much more into it, than what meets the eyes,” Justice Lokur told Attorney General K K Venugopal.
“It needs to be looked into very, very carefully,” it said, adding, “You (CBI) continue with your investigation”.
During the hearing, advocate Aparna Bhat, assisting the court as an amicus curiae in the matter, said the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (NIMHANS) was assisting CBI on the psycho-social and rehabilitation issues of the victims and they may be permitted to complete the task by first week of October.
The bench said other agencies like TISS, should allow the CBI and NIMHANS for the time being to carry out their work.
The court has posted the matter for hearing on October 25.
Over 30 girls were allegedly raped at the shelter home run by Thakur and the issue was highlighted in an audit report submitted by TISS to the state’s social welfare department.