The Delhi High Court on Wednesday directed the CBI to investigate the alleged illegal confinement of girls and women in a north Delhi ashram where they were kept in "animal-like" conditions behind metal doors in a "fortress" surrounded by barbed wire.
Taking note of the "seriousness and the sensitivity of the matter", a bench of Acting Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice C Hari Shankar asked the CBI director to forthwith constitute a special investigation team (SIT) which will take charge of all the records and documents pertaining to the case.
The court asked the CBI to investigate the FIRs lodged in Delhi against the Rohini-based ashram and its founder-cum- spiritual head Virender Dev Dixit and the daily diary entries relating to complaints of missing girls, the commission of sexual offences and even a case of suicide there.
With regard to the cases lodged in Uttar Pradesh against the institute and its founder, the agency has to place a status report in the court before the next date of hearing on January 17, it said.
"The CBI shall proceed expeditiously in the matter and ensure that steps in accordance with the law be taken at the earliest," the court said during a four-hour-long hearing.
Directions were also issued to the institute and its founder to produce tomorrow the full details and particulars of every inmate lodged in the two buildings housing male and female staff and followers.
They were also asked to inform the court tomorrow about the whereabouts of one of the girls, at present missing from the institute, and when she would be produced before the bench.
The court had yesterday dubbed the situation in the institute -- Adhyatmik Vishwa Vidyalaya -- located at Rohini in north Delhi as being "similar" to that witnessed in Gurmeet Ram Rahim's ashram in Haryana's Sirsa, but without making any direct reference to Ram Rahim or the Dera Sacha Sauda sect led by him.
The committee, comprising lawyers Ajay Verma and Nandita Rao, gave a report detailing the "horrible" living conditions of the over 100 girls and women who were housed in "animal-like conditions with no privacy even for bathing". The inmates seemed to be under the influence of drugs, it said.
The panel members also said they were assaulted by the institute staff and kept locked up for nearly an hour when they went to inspect the institute yesterday.
The panel members, also comprising a senior woman officer, were rescued only after additional police force was called, the court was told.
The bench said it would consider initiating contempt of court action against the institute's staff who not only did not cooperate with the inspection but also assaulted the committee members.
The panel also told the court that there was an adjoining building where male staff was being housed and that there was a possibility that there were minor boys there and that it was probably connected to the women's building by an underground tunnel.
The bench ordered that the adjoining building is also inspected by the panel as well as the child welfare committee of the area which shall be provided police protection.
The Delhi governments health department was directed to depute a team of doctors to visit both the premises in question to medically examine all the inmates to ensure their well-being.
Directions were also issued by the court to the commissioner of the North MCD, under whose jurisdiction the institute falls, to inspect the two premises and "in case, any illegality is discovered with regard to the buildings, immediate action shall be taken in accordance with law".
The institute and its founder were directed to ensure compliance with the court's orders and extend full cooperation to the members of the committee.
During the hearing, the bench told the counsel for the institute and its founder that if it was such a good institution then why there were grills and why the panel was stopped and obstructed from inspecting it.
"We have spent four hours in this matter because you are working in shrouds of secrecy. Under the garb of good activities, you cannot be allowed to do what is not permissible," it said.
The court asked the police to continue with the pickets outside the institute to ensure no untoward incident or violence took place.
Dixit has been arrayed as a party in the petition filed by NGO, Foundation for Social Empowerment, which informed the court that several minors and women were allegedly being illegally confined at the "spiritual university" here and were not allowed to meet their parents.
It said that a couple had lodged a rape complaint with the police, but no FIR had been registered till date.
The NGO has alleged that girls and women had been kept at the "university" for 14 years and more.
While producing one girl in the court, who, the NGO claimed, had managed to get out of the premises, it alleged that she was raped during her stay there, which she has not even disclosed to her parents.
The NGO also alleged that girls confined at the ashram have committed suicide in the past, but the police never registered a case.