The Delhi High Court Tuesday constituted a committee, which will be supervised by former Pondicherry Lieutenant Governor and retired IPS officer Kiran Bedi, to ensure the welfare and assess the physical and mental health of women inmates at a Rohini-based ashram founded by self-styled godman Virendra Dev Dixit who is a proclaimed offender in a case of sexual exploitation.
The division bench of acting Chief justice Vipin Sanghi and Justice Navin Chawla last week had observed that the women inmates of Adhyatmik Vidyalaya are indoctrinated and their claim of being there out of their free will cannot be taken at face value.
On Tuesday, the bench said it was of the view that a committee should be constituted to keep a close watch on the welfare of the inmates. The committee formed by the court comprises the district and sessions judge concerned or his/her nominee holding the rank of the additional district judge, the district magistrate, the DCP of Crime against Women Cell, the Secretary of the District Legal Services Authority, one nominee of the Delhi Commission for Women(DCW) and district officer of the women and child development department.
“The committee shall function to see and ensure that no woman inmate or child, if any found, in the respondent institution is subjected to any such treatment which may tantamount to breach of her fundamental or other legal rights. The committee shall be provided with access by the institution to inspect the premises and to interact with the inmates freely on a regular basis,” said the court.
Directing the Adhyatmik Vidyalaya to make available the inmate-related record to the committee for their inspection, the court said the latter may take assistance of doctors, psychiatrists and other experts to assess the physical and mental wellbeing of the women.
“At the same time, we make it clear that the institution shall be free to pursue its religious and spiritual activities, provided none of them infringes upon any fundamental or other rights of any inmate or any other person. The committee shall file its report on a monthly basis,” said the bench.
The court also directed the Delhi government to strictly enforce the Women’s and Children’s Institutions (Licensing) Act, 1956 and the rules framed under it.
It also took note of the suggestions put forth by the DCW with respect to the formation of a committee to look into the affairs of similar institutions to ensure that the women and children in similar institutions do not suffer any violation of their fundamental or legal rights, and there is proper vigilance and scrutiny to ensure the welfare of such vulnerable classes. Both the Delhi government and the Centre were asked by the court to look at the suggestions.
The High Court in December 2017 had directed the CBI to investigate the alleged illegal confinement of women and girls in the ashram, after hearing a PIL filed by an NGO. While Dixit was chargesheeted by the agency later, he was declared a proclaimed offender in September 2019 by a Rouse Avenue Court and has not been arrested since.
An inspection team in their report in 2017 had told the court that more than 100 girls were housed in “animal-like conditions with no privacy” at the facility. Advocate Nandita Rao, who was part of the team, had expressed grave apprehension about the health of inmates and said that several appeared to be under the influence of some kind of drugs or narcotic substances.