The Supreme Court on Tuesday said it did not believe that only 27 children had been orphaned during the COVID-19 lockdown in Bengal, warning the state against providing “unacceptable” data and adding that it may order a probe if the correct numbers are not provided.
A two-judge bench headed by Justice L Nageswara Rao reminded the Bengal government that this is a matter of children’s welfare and could not be seen as a political issue with the centre.
The court’s irate response came during a hearing on ensuring the safety and protection of children whose parents had died, either as a result of COVID-19 or during lockdown periods.
The court had asked the Bengal government for the number of Covid orphans in its territories, to which the state’s counsel had replied: “27 children, where both parents have died.”
A disbelieving bench questioned this, indicating it was low given the severity of the pandemic.
“If you (the Bengal government’s lawyer) are saying only 27 children were orphaned we will record the statement (but) Bengal is a big state… we are not prepared to belive this figure,” the court said.
The lawyer for the Bengal government replied that collection of data is an “ongoing” process.
To this Justice Rao shot back: “Do not make irresponsible statements and do not give excuses. Understand the urgency of the situation. Orphans are left to fend for themselves. It is your duty to protect them not ours. We ensure children get their rights.”
“Do not take such a stand. It is not a political matter, it pertains to welfare of children.”
The court then asked the Secretary of the concerned government department to file an affidavit.