The Supreme Court on Tuesday clarified that welfare schemes such as the PM CARES Fund should cover both children, who became orphans during the Covid-19 pandemic and those, who became orphans due to Covid-19.
The Bench of Justice L. Nageswara Rao and Justice Aniruddha Bose said, “We are constantly talking about the implementation. But we are not aware of the ground report, children who became orphans might be suffering and as we can see these numbers in the report submitted by Amicus, we feel they might need some urgent assistance.”
Earlier, the Apex Court had directed the state governments and Union Territories to make provisions for the continuance of education of children, both in Government as well as private schools, who have either been orphaned, or lost a parent during the Covid-19 pandemic. It also directed the State Governments/Union Territories to take action against those NGOs/individuals, who are indulging in illegal adoption.
Amicus Curiae Gaurav Agarwal circulated a note in the court regarding the number of children who became orphans in the pandemic, which states that there are tentatively 6,855 children across the nation who lost their parents. He further expressed concern that the people who died in villages, who are not even diagnosed if they died from Covid or not, have not been included in the statistics submitted.
As there are a large number of children who need assistance and need the benefit of the scheme irrespective of being orphaned due to Covid or not, the Amicus wondered that till now the exact number of children are not being produced by some states like Tamil Nadu. The court stated, “In vacation, I got to know that the orphan children who came back to their home from the school hostel are begging the authorities to come back as they do not have food to eat, this is something to be heard as soon as possible.”
It was also observed that the PM CARES Fund scheme only covers children who became orphans on account of losing parents during the Covid pandemic, which includes a corpus of Rs 10 lakh for orphans by the time they turn 23. The bench pointed out its Suo Motu case is dealing with children who became orphans after the onset of Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020.
Justice Rao stated, “This needs to be clarified by the Union, because we are looking for information on the scheme and this (Rs) 10 lakh support announced may only be for children whose parents died due to Covid. But I think it should also apply to other children who became orphans in this period.”
The Supreme Court directed State Governments and Union Territories to continue identifying the children who have become orphans or lost a parent after March 2020 either due to Covid-19 or otherwise and provide the data on the NCPCR website without any delay.
The Court had directed the “District Child Protection Unit” to contact the affected child and his guardian immediately on the receipt of information about the death of the parent/parents, if not done yet!
Additional Solicitor General Aishwarya Bhati told the bench that the welfare scheme under PM CARES is only for the children who became orphan due to COVID, to which the court replied, “What we are thinking is to take care of all children who have been orphaned whether COVID or not COVID. We cannot restrict the orders passed to only orphans who lost both parents to COVID. We are not asking to extend the scheme but we can’t restrict our orders to only children who became orphans due to COVID, there are other aspects also which have to be taken care of.”
The amicus submitted that the Government has submitted a report last night regarding the policies and action to be implemented which states that they will check whether the guardian of the orphan child is in good financial condition then he can look after the child whereas if not then necessary steps should be taken by the Government and also the government should come out with a strategy for those who are not able to pay the fees of the schools because their parents/parent died due to Covid.
The Court said if the DCPU is of the prima facie opinion that the guardian is not suitable to take care of the child, he should produce the child before the CWC immediately. It directed the CWC to provide for the essential needs of the child during the pendency of the inquiry without fail. The inquiry should be completed expeditiously. CWC shall also ensure that all financial benefits to which the child is entitled are provided without any delay.
“Wide publicity should be given to the provisions of the JJ Act, 2015 and the prevailing schemes of the Union of India and the State Governments/Union Territories which would benefit the affected children. DPCO shall take the assistance of government servants at the Gram Panchayat level to monitor the welfare of the disconsolate children who are devastated by the catastrophe of losing their parent/parents,” it said.
The Court during its hearing on 07/06/2021, has dealt with the issues which need its immediate attention relating to the “Identification of the Children”, “Immediate Relief to Affected Children,” and “Education of the Child.”
Further, the bench reminded that India is a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of Child Welfare and therefore the state has an obligation to take care of orphans.
It has been noted that the information provided by the State Governments/Union Territories on the ‘Bal Swaraj’ Portal up to 05.06.2021 shows that there are 30,071 children who have become orphans or have lost one parent or abandoned. The break-up given in the affidavit filed by the NCPCR is that there are 3,621 orphans, 26,176 children who have lost one parent and 274 children who have been abandoned.
With regard to the “Continuance of Education,” of the affected Child, the Apex Court had accepted the suggestions of the learned amicus Curiae Gaurav Agarwal, who has suggested that the affected children should not face a situation of discontinuance of their education. If the affected children are studying in Government schools they should be permitted to continue. In so far as the children who are studying in private schools, the State Governments/Union Territories should take steps and direct the continuance of the children in those schools at least for period of six months by which time some arrangement can be worked out.
Following which, the Court had directed the State Government/Union Territories should ensure that there is no break in the education of children who have become orphans or lost either one parent during the Pandemic.
The Court directed the counsel appearing on behalf of various states to collect necessary information in regard to the children who became orphans during this pandemic after March 2020 and upload the information at the earliest and file an affidavit showing particular steps taken to protect the children who are orphan.