Adoption: SC irked over non-functional SAAs in 370 districts, warns 29 chief secretaries of contempt proceedings

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New Delhi, Jul 9 (PTI) The Supreme Court on Tuesday took strong note of the failure to set up Specialised Adoption Agency (SAA), meant to streamline the adoption process of abandoned and surrendered children, in 370 out of 760 districts in the country, and ordered the chief secretaries of 29 states and UTs to either comply with the order or face contempt proceedings.

According to the top court’s orders, all 34 states and Union territories had to mandatorily set up SAAs in every district by January 31, 2024, but only five have complied.

It has now directed the chief secretaries of the rest of the states and UTs to file a compliance report on or before 30 August, failing which they will have to appear before this court on September 2 to explain why contempt proceedings should not be started against them.

The SAAs prepare the home study report of the prospective adoptive parents, and after finding them eligible, refer a child declared legally free for adoption to them along with the child study report and the medical report.

To have functional SAAs is a necessary legal requirement under the Juvenile Justice Act.

A bench comprising Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud and justices JB Pardiwala and Manoj Misra lamented the non-setting up of SAAs in 370 districts by states and UTs after it was flagged by Additional Solicitor General Aishwarya Bhati, appearing for the Centre, and decided to take “coercive” measures.

Out of 34 states and Union territories, Chandigarh, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala and Rajasthan have fully complied with the direction, the law officer said.

Twenty-nine states and UTs have not complied with the direction of the court, with Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Nagaland, Punjab, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand being the major defaulters.

The law officers said in UP, 61 out of 75 districts, and in Uttarakhand, 10 out of 13 districts lacked functional SAAs.

"We are compelled to take coercive proceedings against the state governments and the Union territories (UTs) since despite repeated efforts and repeated opportunities, the SAAs have not been set up in all districts.

"We accordingly direct the chief secretaries of all the states and UTs as mentioned in Annexure .... to file a compliance report on or before 30 August, failing which they shall remain personally present before this court on September 2 to explain why they should not be proceeded against the exercise of contempt jurisdiction," the bench ordered.

It also asked the states and the UTs to file affidavits explaining whether the timelines stipulated under the adoption regulations of 2022 for facilitating the process of adoption are being duly complied with.

The bench asked them to also disclose the data on the actual time taken to complete the adoption process.

"They (affidavits) shall also indicate the reasons why the timelines as stipulated in the regulations are not being complied with," it said.

At the outset, the bench was apprised by the law officer that in 2023-24, over 4,000 children have been adopted and 13,000 registrations have been made by prospective persons seeking to adopt children.

The law officer, however, raised the issue of non-functional SAAs in districts as a detriment in the successful completion of the adoption process.

The bench, during the hearing, said that there were difficulties for the court to lay down guidelines for adoptions and their registrations under the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act (HAMA).

"Once the statute is very clear about the conditions, it may not be appropriate for the court to prescribe guidelines now...,” the bench said. The matter will now be taken up on September 2.

Earlier also, the bench had voiced displeasure over the failure to set up SAAs in 370 districts across the country and warned states and union territories of "coercive steps" for non-compliance with its directions.

The court had also expressed displeasure over the “stark tale” told by the annual adoption figures in the country.

“Between 2013 and 2023, the annual figure of total adoptions, both in-country and inter-country, ranges between 3,158 on the lower end of the spectrum (2022-2023) to 4,362 (2014-2015)...,” it had said.

Earlier, the bench had noted the "mismatch" between the number of children legally available for adoption and registered prospective adoptive parents.

It had directed all states and UTs to carry out a drive every two months to identify the children in abandoned and surrendered (OAS) category in childcare institutions. It had said the first of such an exercise should be carried out by December 7.

The bench had also directed all states and UTs to compile and submit to the Director, CARA (Central Adoption Resource Authority) data on adoptions under the HAMA by January 31, 2024.

The apex court was hearing a PIL by "The Temple of Healing" which sought simplification of the legal process for child adoption in India, saying only 4,000 adoptions take place annually in the country. PTI SJK MNL SJK RT RT

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