New Delhi, Apr 5 (PTI) The Delhi High Court today pulled up the Centre for not sharing the details of missing children with the police despite its orders and warned of initiating contempt action if due seriousness was not shown in the 20-year-old matter.

The court said police officials were ultimately responsible for tracking down missing children and the more the Ministry of Women and Child Development (MWCD) delayed sharing access to its data base with the police, the greater would be the problem.

“There can be no legitimate reason for the MWCD to be sitting on the data of missing children and refusing to share it with police agencies in Delhi and elsewhere,” a bench of justices S Muralidhar and I S Mehta said.

It said that a large number of missing children in the country are sought to be traced by the police on the complaints of anxious parents and the court was unable to appreciate why the ministry would want to frustrate implementation of its orders.

The court expressed displeasure when it was informed by the Delhi Police’s special commissioner (crime) that it has obtained its own face recognition software (FRS) but it was unable to do trial run of the application as the MWCD has not provided the data.

It said the MWCD maintains the data of missing children, including their photographs, unique ID and the child welfare committee details, and without access to the details being given to the Delhi Police, the directions of the court to run the FRS on a test basis cannot be implemented.

When of a senior officer of the ministry, present in the court, said they were apprehensive of sharing the details with the police, the bench said the explanation was “objectionable” and “unacceptable”.

“This public interest litigation (PIL) has been pending for over 20 years. The MWCD has to demonstrate to the court its seriousness about tracing missing children or else the court might be constrained to require the implementation of its orders under pain of contempt of court,” the bench said.

Another senior officer of the MWCD said with the Delhi Police procuring the FRS, the MWCD would now be willing to share the data with it.

To this, the bench said, “The court finds this attitude of the MWCD, on deciding when it will implement the court’s order and on what conditions, to be unacceptable. It was not for the MWCD to decide the conditions under which it would provide the Delhi Police access to the data it is holding. It was obliged and bound in law to ensure that this court’s orders are not frustrated.” The court directed the special commissioner of police (crime) to go to the office of the secretary of the MWCD today itself and get the data on missing children.

The court made it clear that handing over of data to the Delhi Police by the ministry was only for the purpose of running the FRS on test basis and the police shall share the results of using the software with the MWCD in two weeks.

Directing the secretary of the MWCD and the special commissioner of police (crime) to file a compliance affidavit in a week, the court said if the directions are not implemented, the two officers shall remain present before it on April 23, the next date of hearing.

The court had earlier asked the police to run on a trial basis a FRS, developed by a private entity, which can help trace and rescue missing children.

Earlier, NGO Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA) had given a proposal to give the software to the Delhi Police free of cost.

Senior counsel H S Phoolka and advocate Prabhsahay Kaur, appearing for the NGO, had submitted in the court that Vision Box, the software developer, has offered the FRS free of cost for one year, provided it was used only for tracing missing children.

The bench was hearing a plea regarding missing children in which it has been examining ways and means to address the issue of tracing and restoring them to their families.

This is published unedited from the PTI feed.