The Integrated Child Protection Scheme (ICPS), which is a vehicle for implementation of the Juvenile Justice Act, has not been implemented by successive governments for the past eight years. Recently, the government itself put brakes on the scheme once more.
Just when it appeared that the appointment of an experienced child protection expert, Hilal Bhat, as ICPS mission director will finally set the scheme rolling, the government removed Bhat unceremoniously just two weeks after his appointment.
In 2013, Jammu and Kashmir signed the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to implement the ICPS with the Government of India (GoI), although the scheme was launched by Ministry of Women and Child Development in 2009.
But more than four years after signing the MoU, no effort was made to implement the scheme on ground, although the GoI had released funds for its implementation.
During the past two years, Rs 52 core were released to execute the scheme.
J&K is the only state that has failed to implement the scheme despite the fact that 90 percent of the funds will come from the GoI. The other states have to fund 40 percent of the expenditure.
"The biggest reason for failure of ICPS in the state so far has been that the scheme was being administered through Integrated Child-Care Development Scheme (ICDS) manned by general administrative officers. It was only last month that the government separated the ICPS from the ICDS and appointed Hilal Bhat a native professional, subject specialist as the mission director who was motivated to give up his position at the UNICEF," a senior official said.
"The move is political in nature and will only harm the already delayed scheme in the state," the official said.
During the past four years the ICDS failed to constitute any statutory structure like Juvenile Justice Boards or Child Welfare Committees (CWCs) at the district level as required by law.
A district CWC comprises a chairman and four other people, one of whom must be a woman and another member an expert on matters concerning children.
"The fundamental problem is that administrative officers, no doubt competent, do not have an understanding of the complex subject of child protection," admitted an officer who had been associated with the ICDS in the past.
In September this year, Supreme Court Judge Justice Madan B Lokur, while inaugurating a conference organised by Hilal Bhat, which focused on the implementation of Jammu and Kashmir Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act 2013, had said: "J&K state has enough lessons to learn from other states which have already implemented similar laws and learn from the shortcomings in the other states to rectify their own."
After facing severe criticism from all quarters over delay in implementation of the ICPS, social welfare minister Sajjad Gani Lone on 26 September 2017 wrote to the Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti: "The biggest impediment to implement the ICPS, despite the fact that 90 percent of the funding comes from the GoI, has been the administrators who have poor understanding of the subject matter."
The letter further states:"The biggest dividend that Juvenile Justice and ICPS bring is to help young children to be mainstreamed with the help of various cash and non-cash assistance and thereby stop their slippage to anti-social activities. Since the entire subject matter of ICPS is complex and has been reduced to the issue of children in conflict, therefore, it is indispensible to have a dedicated mission director with sound knowledge of the subject comprising both the children in conflict with law and children in need of care and protection."
While strongly recommending Hilal Bhat's name for the post based on his expertise and skills, Lone wrote: "The proposed candidate has sound hands-on practical experience with the reputed agencies with sound academic understanding. Hilal Ahmad Bhat, state consultant for UNICEF in J&K who is also technical advisor to the government on JJ/ICPS, with exclusive experience of 15 years in child protection both from the state and outside, may be posted as the mission director ICPS."
The finance department had vide order No: FD-VII-18 (512004-05 had on 22-09-2017) given concurrence for hiring mission director.
Both the chief minister and chief secretary had asked the social welfare department to appoint the mission director from open market. They had also given a green signal for appointment of 22 district child protection officers (DCPOs), a charge held by KAS officers since 2013.
After the proposal from the social welfare minister and concurrence from the finance department, the chief secretary approved the proposal on 23-10-2017: "Since the chief minister has seen the proposal of minister for social welfare (Para 15), we may have no objection to the engagement of any suitable persons as mission director, ICPS, on contract basis, after fully satisfying as regards the guidelines regarding the appointment and the observation of the finance department."
The government, however, contradicted its own order by saying that Bhat had been appointed through an order issued by the social welfare department, not the GAD.