Gonda police station in Ranchi on Monday. (Hardeep Singh)
Call it the mystery of the vanished Bal Mitra Thana.
The first child-friendly police station in Jharkhand that debuted in Gonda, near the chief minister’s Kanke residence, on November 26 last year, has stopped functioning from August this year.
There were clues aplenty to show that everything was amiss. First, the signboard showing the way to the special thana was missing. The office of the thana in-charge was locked.
Then, came the clincher.
Sugar Kandulna, ace hockey player and sub-inspector, who had been appointed as the in-charge of this Bal Mitra Thana for juvenile offenders, was transferred in August.
Since then, the post of in-charge is vacant and the thana — where policemen wore plain clothes and did not handcuff children or put them behind bars — is defunct.
When The Telegraph sought an explanation, officer in charge of Gonda police station Raj Kapoor hastily said: “The Jagannathpur Bal Mitra Thana (the second special police station) is functional.”
That didn’t answer the question of why the Bal Mitra Thana in Gonda was felled by neglect. After all, it had enjoyed a hi-profile launch by additional director general of police (crime investigation) Asha Sinha at the behest of then deputy inspector general of South Chotanagpur Sampat Meena.
Ranchi SSP Saket Kumar Singh, present during the launch, cobbled up a defence.
“A Bal Mitra Thana isn’t a special police station like a mahila or ST/SC thana where a full-time OC is required. It’s just for creating awareness among police officers about Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000. As most police officers have been trained to handle cases related to children in conflict with the law sensitively, it is natural that special Bal Mitra police stations will get redundant,” he said.
State Commission for Protection of Child Rights member Sanjay Mishra, also present at the time of the inauguration of Bal Mitra Thana, refused to buy the explanation.
“It’s great that police officers have been sensitively trained. But it does not mean that a Bal Mitra Thana should be closed. Instead, the network of Bal Mitra police stations should be strengthened and given adequate staff strength so that the thanas are the turning point in the lives of these children,” he said.
He added that the thanas were conceptualised to give troubled or wayward minor delinquents a chance to change.
Whether Gonda’s Bal Mitra Thana — hailed as a milestone for juvenile justice — is a casualty thanks to an overdose of sensitivity or just sheer apathy is worthy of a probe.
The mystery of the missing signboard is far easier to solve.
“It was uprooted during the widening of Kanke Road a month ago,” a policeman said.