New Delhi: The Delhi High Court on Wednesday sought a status report on plight of juvenile delinquents in the city after it was alleged that 74 of them died in various observation homes.

A bench of Acting Chief Justice A K Sikri and Justice Rajiv Sahai Endlaw sought the report on the condition of underage offenders' from the Delhi government as well as the city police, besides the Ministry of Women and Child Development of city government and the Tihar prisons authority.

The court, which was hearing a plea that also alleged that juveniles are often lodged in Tihar jail with hardened criminals after their arrest, sought the status report even as the Delhi government counsel said that it has no data on such offenders.

The bench also observed that a juvenile cannot be treated as criminal though he might have committed an offence.

The court on November 23 had sought the city government's stand on two separate pleas on juvenile delinquents – one alleging that they are often lodged in Tihar jail with hardened criminals after their arrest and the second alleging deaths of 74 underage offenders in various observation homes.

The bench had sought the government's reply on the issue of lodging of underage offenders in Tihar Jail, taking cognisance of a letter by a Juvenile Justice Board advocate Anant Kumar Asthana, who had made the allegations.

Treating Asthana's letter as a PIL, the bench had appointed advocate Pankaj Sinha as amicus curiae to assist it in the matter.

In his letter, Asthana had claimed that about 140 children were first lodged in Tihar Jail after their arrest and were later shifted to various juvenile homes between October 2010
and August.

Asthana had alleged that police makes no effort to find if the offenders are juvenile while picking them up.

Police arrest juvenile delinquents often ignoring the documentary proofs put forward by their families and showing them to be underage offenders, Asthana had said, adding the
children, however, were later found to be juveniles by courts and shifted to juvenile homes.

The court had also sought government's response to a another plea by social activist Veena Banerjee alleging that 74 children had died in various juvenile observation homes between 2004 and 2008 due to mismanagement there.

Holding the managers of these homes responsible for the mismanagement, the petitioner said, "Despite the government spending Rs 5000 per head every month in the homes, children died due to malnourishment, lack of basic amenities and other reasons."

Banerjee had sought probe by an independent agency into these deaths.