PATNA: Under fire over alleged rape of 34 girls at a government-funded shelter home, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar today blamed "system flaw" for the case and rejected demands for sacking his social welfare minister Manju Verma only on the basis of allegations by opposition leaders.
Kumar also announced his decision to phase out the practice of shelter homes being run by NGOs and said the state government would take over administration of all such centres over a period of time.
He said Verma can be asked "to go" only if she is found to have facilitated any wrongdoing and not because of "noises" being made -- a stance that found support from Deputy Chief Minister and BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi.
Kumar also took potshots at his former party colleague Sharad Yadav and other opposition leaders for attending a protest in the national capital on the issue, saying it was amusing to see people having spoken unkindly of women holding candle lights at an event organised by a person facing corruption charges.
Soon after Kumar replied to some media queries during his weekly public interaction programme "Lok Samvad" while referring specific questions to officials on why the main accused Brajesh Kumar was never taken into police custody, his deputy chief minister also asserted there is no need for resignation of Verma or any other minister "just because some people are giving statements".
Verma is in the eye of storm ever since name of her husband has cropped up in the Muzaffarpur sex scandal, in which medical reports have confirmed rape of 34 out of a total of 42 inmates of the shelter home.
The opposition parties have been gunning for the minister's head.
"Investigations are on. If it is found that she had in any way facilitated any wrongdoing, she may have to go, but (not) because people are making noises," Kumar said.
Hitting back at opposition leaders, Kumar said where were these people, who have suddenly grown so sensitive, when the first FIR was lodged on May 31 and wjy have they woken up to the scandal in the last few weeks.
Coming in support of Verma of JD(U), Modi said no minister needs to resign just because some people are making noises.
"They are voicing their personal opinion and that is not the party line," he said, referring to his party colleague C P Thakur reportedly favouring Verma's resignation.
Modi dismissed demand for resignation of another minister, BJP's Suresh Sharma as well.
Sharma's name has also been highlighted by the opposition in this case.
Kumar dismissed speculation that Thakur favoring Verma's resignation and letters written by Governor Satya Pal Mallik to him and to the Centre hinted towards a strategy by his coalition partner BJP to pin him down.
He also launched a scathing attack on opposition leaders, including Congress president Rahul Gandhi and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejrwial, for participating in the sit-in and candle light march at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi, saying it showed corruption is no longer an issue for them.
Kumar asked how could those leaders take part in an event organized by someone against whom charge sheet has been filed in a corruption case -- an obvious reference to his former deputy Tejashwi.
Training his guns at Sharad Yadav, Kumar said it was amusing to see people who have spoken unkindly of women on the floor of the Parliament holding candle lights in New Delhi -- referring to the former JD(U) leader's alleged anti-women remarks in the past.
Putting the blame for the Muzaffarpur scandal on systemic issues, Kumar said there is definitely "a flaw in the system" where the shelter homes were run by NGOs but "this system is running for a long time in the entire country.
" Kumar said his government intends to build its own infrastructure and it has taken strong note of the fact that the Muzaffarpur shelter home was being run from premises where the concerned NGO's patron ran a newspaper.
He said steps would be taken for running such homes with the help of the government's own manpower instead of outsourcing these to NGOs, but the transition would happen in a phased manner.
Resenting political attacks, Kumar said Bihar was perhaps the first state to have got social audit of all shelter homes done by a reputed body like the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) and most states are now following this example.
At the nearly hour-long media interaction, the CM asked officials to take over when questions were posed as to why the main accused was never taken into police custody and was allowed to remain in a hospital and newspapers run by him continued to get huge government advertisements.
Director General of Police K S Dwivedi said the trial court did not accept the plea for Thakur's police remand and he was sent to a hospital by a court order on the basis of a medical report.
Official sources said a three-member team has now been constituted for medical examination of Thakur, who has been in a hospital for close to 40 days.
Principal Secretary (Social Welfare) Atul Prasad said a number of officials have been suspended for being lax in the supervision of such shelter homes.
He said it was not possible to make public the TISS report since the law prohibits anything that might disclose the victims' identity.
Principal Secretary (Information and Public Relations Department) Atish Chandra said Thakur's newspapers were getting government advertisements since the late 80s but it was stopped this June after the scandal came to light.