Delhi HC Directs Police Not To Wait For 24 Hours Before Initiating Investigations Into Complaints Of Missing Children

The Delhi High Court has issued a significant order directing the police not to wait for 24 hours before initiating investigations into complaints of missing children. This ruling came in the case of Vinod v. State NCT of Delhi (W.P.(CRL) 2029/2024), heard by a division bench comprising Justice Prathiba M. Singh and Justice Amit Sharma on July 9, 2024.

The case originated from a writ petition filed by Vinod under Article 226 of the Constitution and Section 482 of the Criminal Procedure Code, seeking a writ of Habeas Corpus for the production of his minor daughter who went missing on February 19, 2024. The petitioner, represented by advocates Ms. Manika Tripathy, Mr. Naveen K. Sarswat, and Mr. Rony John, alleged that the police at Nangloi Police Station initially asked him to wait for 24 hours before filing a complaint.

The court expressed concern over this practice, noting that the 24-hour delay could result in crucial time being wasted, potentially allowing the child to be taken outside the court’s jurisdiction or leading to untoward incidents.

Justice Prathiba M. Singh observed, “In the case of complaints relating to children going missing, irrespective of whether the child is a minor or a major; waiting for the 24 hour period could result in crucial time being wasted. Therefore, it is extremely important that immediate investigation and inquiries be conducted by the police/investigating agencies without waiting for 24 hours under the presumption that the person/child may return home”.

The court highlighted the existence of a Revised Standing Order No. 252 dated March 18, 2009, which prescribes the duties of police regarding missing persons. This order mandates the immediate registration of cases for all missing children aged 12 and below, and for all missing minor girls regardless of age.

Additionally, the court referenced the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) formulated by the Ministry of Women and Child Development for cases of missing children. The SOP states that upon receiving a complaint of a missing child, an FIR should be registered immediately as a case of trafficking or abduction.

Justice Singh emphasized, “The above SOPs makes it adequately clear that action has to be taken immediately, promptly, forthwith and at once. There is no scope for any speculation or conjecture that the child may return home in 24 hours and hence the police can wait”.

The court directed the Commissioner of Police to issue instructions to all police stations to eliminate the 24-hour waiting period and commence investigations immediately upon receiving a complaint. The case was also transferred to the Anti-Human Trafficking Unit (Crime Branch) of the Delhi Police for immediate and diligent investigation under the supervision of a senior officer not below the rank of an ACP.

Mr. Sanjay Lao, Standing Counsel for the State, along with Mr. Priyam Agarwal and Mr. Abhinav Kr. Arya, represented the respondent. Inspector Yogender from Nangloi Police Station was also present during the proceedings.

This landmark order is expected to significantly improve the response time and effectiveness of police investigations in cases of missing children, potentially increasing the chances of successful recovery and reunification with families.

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