A Supreme Court Bench headed by Justice Nageswara Rao has directed States of West Bengal, Assam and Rajasthan to initiate the first stage of a pilot project for video conferencing facilities being made available for deposition of children/witnesses in trafficking cases.
All state governments have also been directed to provide statistics of children/witnesses of child trafficking who are required to depose outside their state as well as the information relating to facility of VC in one district of their choice.
The Court further directed the Counsels of Assam, West Bengal and Advocate-on-Record for Rajasthan to instruct the State Government to initiate the process of providing infrastructure for VC facility in one district.
These directions were issued in the matter In Re Contagion of Covid 19 Virus in Children Protection Homes (SMW [C] No. 4 of 2020).
LiveLaw reported that the Amicus Curiae Gaurav Agrawal had submitted before the Bench that an experiment could be conducted for the establishment of deposing on video conference on the basis of four sample cases. He apprised the court that,
“We had identified four cases. 2 are pending in Delhi, 1 in Sitamani and 1 in Jaipur. We chose this because the Courts have the VC provision. The second issue is about the residence of the child. They’re mostly hotspots and these are the places where trafficking takes place. So, we have considered whether necessary infrastructure is available at a remote point.”
Justice Nageswara Rao asked the Amicus Curiae if he expected the Courts or the respective State Governments to establish the remote points, “Do you want someone from the judiciary or Child Commissions?”
Agrawal assured the Court that a completely independent coordinator would be appointed from a Child Welfare Committee and that this person would ensure if the child was vulnerable or not. Further, the deposition would take place before a Judge, and a remote point coordinator would be present, along with a legal officer from National Legal Services Authority.
With regards to the pressure and vulnerability of a child deposing before a court from a remote location, the Court also suggested as to whether an individual from the State Legal Services Authority may be appointed, instead of the Child Welfare Committee. The court further informed Amicus Curiae Gaurav Agarwal that “the process will take place in stages that they would proceed by seeing how the first stage (infrastructure) would unfold.”
Justice Rao then gave Bihar, West Bengal and Assam till the end of January to implement stage one for infrastructure. Advocate Manish Kumar, appearing for the State of Bihar, submitted to the Court that Bihar had the appropriate infrastructure and that the witnesses had been able to testify without any pressure. The Bench directed Kumar to file a detailed Affidavit on the same, including the stats on witnesses and cases in the State.
Gaurav Agarwal and Senior Advocate Anitha Shenoy (Advocate for petitioner) were told by the court, “You have to take into consideration that the child should be under any influence. Think of the precautions. This child is in a remote location, deposing before the Court. He is very vulnerable. You and Shenoy think of these suggestions. We will pass an order. We also want to get the actual statistics of cases pending in these three states and the break-up, so that we can see how much work needs to be done. Retired officers will help.”
The top court also said that suggestions had been considered so that children do not face any difficulty in travelling. Further, there is also a need to ensure that there is no external influence or pressure on children when they depose through Video Conference. The order also recorded that the Court had proposed the appointment of retired judicial officers as coordinators.
The matter will now be heard in January 2021.