Union Minister Maneka Gandhi has lashed out at Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik over alleged sexual exploitation of inmates at a shelter home in Dhenkanal district, saying the incident reveals a "deep and utter failure" of the state government.
An NGO-run shelter home in Dhenkanal -- 106 km from state capital Bhubaneswar -- was sealed on last Sunday, December 9 and two people, including its managing director, was arrested following allegations of sexual harassment of its inmates.
Gandhi, in a letter to Patnaik dated December 7, said it is a matter of great concern that the incident only came to light when some of the girls residing there confided in media and accused the shelter home in-charge of sexual abuse.
The women and child development minister has also set up an inquiry in the case which would be headed by the secretary in her ministry, Rakesh Srivastava.
"It is alleged that shelter home was rife with incidents of sexual harassment and was being used as a front for illegal religious conversion. Investigations have also revealed that the 'Good News India' organisation running these homes has been operating in Odisha for the past two years without registration under Juvenile Justice Act," she said in the letter.
"This is gross violation of Integrated Child Protection Scheme (ICPS) and highlights a lack of oversight by state government authorities on statuary compliance of running a shelter home," she said.
"I am horrified to learn that 'Good News India' NGO in question is currently operating more than 25 such shelter homes in Odisha," she added.
Gandhi said the incident "reveals a deep and utter failure on the part of state government in taking basic precautionary measures for the safety and welfare of children, leading to such a heinous incident".
She also instructed the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights to inspect all homes in Odisha immediately, following which the apex child rights body has decided to conduct inspections in children homes in 19 districts, including homes of 'Good News India NGO'.
"Nine teams comprising 21 officials, including experts and members of Odisha SCPCR, would conduct the inspections," an official said