New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Tuesday issued notices to the Bihar government and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on a plea challenging a Patna High Court order restraining the media from reporting on the investigation into the Muzaffarpur shelter home case where several women were allegedly raped and sexually abused.
The notice was issued by the bench of Justices Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta, which asked as the state government and the CBI, which is investigating the case, to file their responses to the petition. The bench also listed the matter for hearing on September 18.
The notice was issued by the top court bench in response to a plea challenging the Patna HC order banning media from reporting about the Muzaffarpur shelter home case probe.
The apex court also stayed the Patna HC direction appointing a lady advocate as amicus and asking her to interview the alleged victims of Muzaffarpur shelter homes.
The bench was informed that the Patna High Court had on August 29 passed an order appointing a lady advocate as an amicus in the case pending there and asked her to visit the place where the alleged victims are staying and interview them for the purpose of their rehabilitation.
Over 30 girls were allegedly raped at the shelter home run by Brajesh Thakur, the chief of the state-funded NGO. The alleged sexual exploitation of the girls was first highlighted in an audit report submitted by TISS to the state's social welfare department.
The petition was filed by a Patna-based journalist through advocate Fauzia Shakil challenging the High Court order restraining the media from reporting about the probe into the case.
The plea, which has sought a stay on the operation of the high court's August 23 order, has alleged that the order was "patently erroneous" as it amounted to imposing a "blanket ban" on the media reporting in the shelter home case.
"The high court was not justified in ignoring that the effect of the impugned order was a gross infarction of the fundamental right of the people to know and freedom of the press which is guaranteed under the Constitution," the plea said.
The Patna High Court, which has been monitoring the probe in the case, had on August 23 expressed displeasure over the leak of details of the investigation and had asked the media to refrain from publishing it as it could be detrimental to the probe.
The incidents of alleged rape and sexual assault of women over a period of time in the NGO-run shelter home at Muzaffarpur had come to light after a social audit was conducted by the Mumbai-based Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS).
In the plea filed before the apex court, the petitioner journalist has claimed that there was no material before the high court to come to a conclusion that media reporting might hamper the ongoing investigation.
"The high court committed an error in appreciating that the blanket ban had a chilling effect and is a direct assault on the rights of the public at large as also the rights of the fourth estate under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution," the plea has said.
The petitioner also said that it was because of the pro-active role of the media, the "shocking incident" was exposed and it was "arbitrary" to impose a blanket ban on reporting the probe.
The plea said that because of the media reporting in the Muzaffarpur case, boys at a juvenile home at Arrah in Bihar had gathered courage and complained to their parents about the physical and sexual abuse there.
The apex court had earlier taken cognisance of the incident after a letter was written by Patna resident Ranvijay Kumar highlighting the issue of repeated interviews of the alleged victims of the Muzaffarpur shelter home being published and aired.
An FIR was lodged against 11 people, including Thakur, on May 31. The probe has now been taken over by the CBI. In all, the sexual abuse of 34 of the 42 inmates was confirmed in their medical examination.
The TISS audit report had said that many girls at the shelter home had complained of sexual abuse. A special investigation team was formed to probe the complaints.
The NGO running the shelter home in Muzaffarpur was blacklisted and the girls were shifted to shelter homes in Patna and Madhubani. Women staff members of the shelter home and Thakur were among those who were arrested by the police in connection with the case.
(With PTI inputs)