Mumbai: Upholding the conviction of three persons for gang-raping five mentally challenged girls in an orphanage run by them, the Bombay High Court has come down heavily on the state Child Welfare Committee (CWC) for failing to do its duty as a watchdog.
A division bench of justices RV More and Anuja Prabhudessai upheld the conviction of Ramchandra Karanjule, Nanabhau Karanjule and Khandu Kasbe on charges of gang-raping and molesting five girls, including three minors, at an orphanage, run by private trust 'Kalyani Mahila Bal Seva Sanstha' at Kalamboli in Navi Mumbai.
Ramchandra Karanjule and his wife were trustees of the orphanage.
In its 120-page judgement on March 11, the high court has come down heavily on the CWC for not doing its job properly and failing to keep a watch on the orphanage.
"The CWC is a primary body for addressing needs of children in need of care and protection. The CWC is required to play a role of watchdog at the district level and ensure that standards of care are maintained and the incidents of exploitation and abuse in all child care institutions are addressed," the high court said.
"In the present case, facts clearly indicate that the CWC members have not acted in the best interest of the child. The insensitive role of CWC in adopting 'I see no wrong and hear no wrong' greatly perturbs our judicial conscience," the bench observed in its order.
"Had they (CWC) performed their duties sincerely and with sensitivity, the truth would have been unearthed and these young helpless vulnerable victims would not have been physically, sexually and emotionally traumatised," it said.
The HC, while upholding the conviction of the three persons, observed that the prosecution has proved beyond reasonable doubt their case that the girls were raped.
The court observed that Ramchandra, as director of the orphanage, portrayed himself to be a "savior, protector and guardian" of such girls who were abandoned by their families and shunned by the society.
"The girls were totally dependent on him for food, clothing, shelter and the other basic necessities for survival. They had nowhere to go and no one to confide in or complain to and had to accept the situation as part of their life, by suppressing their feelings, emotions and anger.
"It was only after the committee appointed by this court took the girls into confidence and encouraged them to give vent to their feelings that they expressed their fear, shame and anger," the court said.
The high court commuted the death sentence awarded to Ramchandra, and allowed the appeal filed by him challenging his conviction under section 302 (murder) of IPC for allegedly causing the death of one inmate.
The high court had upheld his conviction for gang-rape and sentenced him to ten years in prison.
The HC, while acquitting Ramchandra on charges of murder, observed that the prosecution was not able to adduce evidence to prove that the death of an inmate was caused due to physical and sexual abuse.
The court, while relying on medical evidence which claimed that the girl had died due to tuberculosis and acute pneumonia, said, "In the present case, there is absolutely no evidence to prove that the accused had committed any such act, which had resulted in death of...."
Moreover, the prosecution has not adduced any evidence to prove that the girl's death was due to deprivation of proper food and medication.
There is absolutely no evidence to prove that the accused had failed to give medication or proper nutrition to her with an intention of causing her death or with a knowledge that it would cause or accelerate her death, the HC said.
A total of six convicts, including Karanjule, had approached the high court after a sessions court convicted them in March 2013.
Apart from Karanjule, the others convicted by the HC are -- Nanabhau Karanjule, Khandu Kasbe, (both acquaintances of Ramchandra Karanjule), and Sonali Badade (orphanage superintendent) and Parvati Mavale (caretaker).
The high court, however, acquitted Prakash Khadke (acquaintance of Ramchandra Karanjule) from all charges.
The HC had upheld conviction under section 354 (molestation) and two-year sentenced handed over to Nanabhau Karanjule.
It convicted Khandu Kasbe under section 376 (2)(g) and sentenced to ten years imprisonment with Rs 50,000 fine.
The orphanage's superintendent, Sonali Badade, was acquitted under the charge of attempt to murder, but convicted on a lesser charge of causing hurt and sentenced to one year in jail with Rs 2,000 fine.
Similarly, Parvati Mavale was convicted by the high court for causing hurt under section 324 of IPC, and sentenced to one year in jail with Rs 2,000 fine.