delhi high court

Delhi High Court: A petition was filed under Article 226 seeking an order or direction directing the respondents herein to adhere to the Standard Operating Procedure dated 23.11.2016 issued by the Ministry of Women and Child Development and to locate the whereabouts of the missing minor daughter of the petitioner. Swarana Kanta Sharma, J., issued comprehensive directions and guidelines for timely investigation of missing minor children as in the present case the respondent police failed to adopt the proper procedure of investigation and to consider the plight of the petitioner when his daughter had gone missing, and her life was at stake.

The petitioner was the father of minor ‘X’ who was about 16 years of age, gone missing on 10-07-2023. She had left her house at about 9:30 AM to visit her aunt who resides near their home. However, on inquiry, it was found that minor “X” had never reached her aunt’s house. They had tried to find her in the neighbourhood, however, she could not be found. An FIR was registered under Section 363 of Penal Code, 1860 (IPC). Despite several visits to the police station between 12-07-2023 to 16-07-2023, no information could be found. Thereafter, a representation was made to the Deputy Commissioner of Police, South-East District, and SHO, Police Station Kalindi Kunj. The petitioner’s grievance is that the police had not taken steps in accordance with the Standard Operating Procedure for cases of missing children issued on 23-11-2016 by the Ministry of Women and Child Development. The present writ petition was filed to point out the lapses in the procedure adopted by the police officials in case of finding the missing child. However, when the matter was taken up for hearing on 28-07-2023, the State and the investigating officer produced the missing daughter of the petitioner before the Court.

The Court noted that the petitioner has suffered hardships as a helpless father who was relying upon the State machinery to protect his minor daughter. Many helpless parents like him have been victims of lackadaisical approach, lapses and delay in taking steps, the lapses which are not merely procedural but grave, and the same be addressed by the Court. The Court further noted that the present case confronts the situation where the father of the minor child had fortunately found his daughter who came back to the fold of his lawful guardianship, but not without facing hardships and stress as he did not know the progress of the case and the hue and cry notice as well as other information which as per mandate of the Standing Order of the Delhi Police were not followed in time as per the case of petitioner, for one reason or the other.

The Court issued directions and guidelines for the benefit of the investigating agency and complainants as well as public at large, in addition to the directions of Supreme Court and procedures and standing orders, which are as follows:

  1. Multi- Lingual Standard Operating Procedure: To ensure the successful implementation of the Standard Operating Procedure as well as the Standing Orders, it is crucial to translate them into various languages widely spoken in Delhi, such as Hindi, Punjabi, and Urdu to accommodate the diverse linguistic landscape of the region in order to enhance comprehension and foster strict adherence to the outlined procedures among not only the law enforcement officers but also the general public.

  2. Training Modules: To ensure sustained proficiency and accessibility, learning modules must be crafted, enabling convenient access for police personnel to all the relevant Standard Operating Procedures and Standing Orders to foster a culture of continuous learning, catering not only to seasoned officers but also to new recruits who may encounter challenges attending regular training sessions. Development of these learning modules will result into creation of a dynamic and flexible platform that empowers officers to enhance their understanding of the SOPs independently. The Delhi Police Academy must ensure that such training modules are provided to all the newly recruited police officials in the Academy.

  3. Periodic Review: SOP- A Living Document: Regular and systematic reviews of the Standard Operating Procedure and Standing Orders must be carried out by the Ministries concerned and the State Authorities/ Police Department, ensuring that the SOPs and Standing Orders evolve in accordance with the changing times to ensure that the SOP remains a living document, actively contributing to the professional growth of police personnel throughout their careers.

  4. Ready-To-Use Hand-Book: A user-friendly ready-to-use handbook should be developed condensing key Standard Operating Procedure details for quick reference. The same should be available in every Police Station across Delhi, ensuring easy accessibility to aid swift referencing during investigations.

  5. Comprehensive Check-List: A standardized checklist incorporating specific timeframes for the completion of each procedure must be formulated and maintained at all police stations, providing a comprehensive guide for investigating officers when handling cases related to missing children to enhance the effectiveness of investigative procedures and ensure a systematic approach to addressing cases involving missing children.

  6. Complainants To Inform The Investigating Agency, If Missing Child Is Found: The Court issued that when a complaint is filed with the police regarding a missing minor, the complaint must specifically include a provision, which specifies that if, at any point, the parents or guardians discover the whereabouts of the missing child or if the child returns home independently, the investigating officer should be promptly and mandatorily informed within 48 hours.

  7. Changes With The Technological Advancements: It is critical that the investigating agencies must invest time, energy and resources to periodically not only review their own standing orders as to how investigation in such cases has to be conducted, but they should also conduct periodical workshops and online or physical lectures not only from our country but learn modern techniques of investigation in cases of missing children and human trafficking. This comprehensive approach ensures that investigators are well-versed in the latest tools and methodologies, effectively combating the challenges posed by both traditional and cyber enabled crimes. By staying abreast of technological advancements, the investigating agencies can play a pivotal role in reuniting families and swiftly resolving cases involving missing children and human trafficking in an increasingly digitized and interconnected world.

  8. Ensuring Access To Current Court Rulings And Administrative Procedures For Law Enforcement: By facilitating access to relevant legal materials, this initiative ensures the adherence to established legal procedures and enhances the overall effectiveness of law enforcement efforts.

The Court concluded that law enforcement agencies must ensure that the Standard Operating Procedures and Standing Orders issued by the Ministries and Police Department are implemented and translated into practice. However, it will require a commitment that must be embraced by all the stakeholders. The guiding philosophy in cases of investigation and following the SOP, law, judicial precedents, and standing orders must be, that children being the most valuable treasures of an emergent Dynamic Bharat deserve the best and safest environment.

[Lambodher Jha v Govt of NCT of Delhi, 2023 SCC OnLine Del 7804, decided on 07-12-2023]

Advocates who appeared in this case :

Mr. Soayib Qureshi, Mr. Sandeep Bajaj, Ms. Aparna Singh and Mr. Harikesh Anirudhan, Advocates for petitioner

Mr. Sanjeev Bhandari, ASC for the State with Mr. Kunal Mittal, Mr. Saurabh Tanwar, Advocates for R-1 to R-3 and IO SI Kamlesh, Inspector Deepak Sharma, W/Constable Renu, P.S. Kalindi Kunj and Victim in person

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