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The Supreme Court has directed the Government to consider releasing the women and girls lodged in Nari Niketan shelters in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Court suggested the same in a petition filed by one Rishad Murtaza which prayed that the government extend the guidelines laid down by the Court with respect to Child Care Institutions to Nari Niketans owing to the pandemic.
The Bench of Justices NV Ramana, Sanjay Kishan Kaul, and BR Gavai did not pass any direction to that effect but told the Centre to consider the issues raised in the petition and directed that the petitioner serve a copy of the petition to SG Tushar Mehta.
The petition raised the issue of the rights of the inmates in these Nari Niketans and Women Shelter Homes under Article 21 of the Constitution of India. It sought for the extension of Court's April 3 order pertaining to guidelines for protection of children in child care institutes to these homes as well for the purpose of preventing the spread of COVID-19 in Nari Niketans.
It was pointed out that the Supreme Court's directions in suo moto matters regarding prisoners and children in protection homes, both do not take into consideration the plight and need for protection of those lodged in Nari Niketans and Women's shelter homes run by State governments and which are not under the purview of the Juvenile Justice Act of 2015.
These Shelter homes house many adult women who are lodged there unwillingly. These are women who, as minors, were married against their will. Their lodging in such homes even after their attaining majority is against their rights, it is said in the petition. Therefore, it was urged that they should be released, particularly owing to the present circumstances.
The Shelter Homes are also overcrowded, the plea states and sought for directions for the decongestion of the same in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Court has now said that the government needs to look into the issues raised in the plea, adding that if it is feasible for the inmates to be released, it should be done.
However, the Court also stopped short of passing any direction stating that in such matters, it is the State governments that need to assess the on-ground situation before taking decisions. The Court, thus, asked the government to consider the issue raised in the petition.
The petition was filed by Advocate Fauzia Shakil and the petitioner was represented by Advocate Shoeb Alam.