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18 Mar 2017

After inmates go missing, Jalpaiguri NGO under scanner

Amitava Banerjee | MP | 17 March 2017 | Darjeeling : The functioning of two shelter homes run by CONC'RN , an NGO in the Jalpaiguri district, has raised serious questions on a number of inmates who have gone missing from these homes.

Unearthing of an alleged child trafficking and illegal adoption racket in the Jalpaiguri district has brought many shelter homes of North Bengal under the scanner.

CONC'RN runs two open shelter homes (one for male and the other for females) in the Bhaktinagar area of the Jalpaiguri district. The area falls under the 35 number ward of the Siliguri Municipal Corporation. Along with this, the NGO also runs two drop-in centers at the New Jalpaiguri Railway station area.

On March 12, a 16-year-old female, who belongs to the NJP area, was rescued by an NGO in connection with a child marriage case. The girl went missing after she was handed over to CONC'RN  to be lodged at the shelter home for girls.

On the night of March 15, two boys, both aged 15 were found to be absconding from the shelter home run by CONC'RN. While one was from Punjab, the other one came from Assam.

When questioned on the missing inmates, Tapas Karmakar, Programme Officer of CONC'RN, blamed it on lack of infrastructure and man-power. Karmakar is also a member of the Child Welfare Committee (CWC), Darjeeling.

"We work under severe constraints. With no government homes in the Darjeeling district, the children are usually sent to us. We have 8 staff members for the boys' shelter home and 8 for the girls'. There is no provision for night attendants and these 16 people have to work round the clock. We have not received any government funds since the past two years," stated Karmakar.

The programme officer washed his hands off from the incident stating that with a shortage of staff, it is not possible for the NGO to launch a manhunt for the missing inmates. "We had immediately intimated the local police regarding the missing kids," Karmakar added.

There have been instances of inmates who have gone missing from these homes in the past. At present, there are 26 boys and 14 girls in these two open shelters.

When quizzed on this, Baby Upadhyay, Chairperson, CWC, Jalpaiguri, stated: "The matter needs to be investigated. We will do what is necessary." However, the matter has not been brought under the notice of the district administration. "I have not been intimated about the missing kids. I will look into the matter," said Rachna Bhagat, District Magistrate, Jalpaiguri, when asked about the same.

Another issue that has raised many eyebrows is the running of two drop-in centers by Concern in the New Jalpaiguri Station area. While CWC, Jalpaiguri claims that they are not aware of these two drop-in centers, CONC'RN claims that these Contact Points (read drop-in centers) are legal and CWC is aware of these Contact Points.

The Centres are housed in two sheds in the New Jalpaiguri Junction Railway station premises. While one is for the girls, the other is for boys. "These centers act as safe houses for vulnerable children. Many stay here during the day and return during the night. Food, education and a safe environment is provided to them. We are following the Government guidelines and have all necessary documents and permission to run these facilities," claimed Karmakar.

Outreach staffs of the CONC'RN man these two centres. Though girls do not stay at night in this centre, there are 3 to 4 boys who do, informed Karmakar.

"Children cannot be kept in such places. We will take legal action against such arrangements," stated Upadhyay.

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