The Nirbhaya fund, set up by the Centre in 2013 to be used towards ensuring women's safety, has seen a dismal nine per cent utilisation with states such as Maharashtra and Meghalaya not spending a single rupee from it, according to government data.
In total, just Rs 147 crore out Rs 1,649 crore sanctioned by the Centre has been spent by the state and UTs governments, the Parliament was recently informed by Women and Child Development Minister Smriti Irani.
Uttar Pradesh and Telangana, the two states which were in the news recently for horrific incidents of rape and murder, were among the highest recipients of the Nirbhaya fund alongside Karnataka, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Delhi.
While Karnataka used 7 per cent of the fund allocated to it by the Centre (the fund allocated to Karnataka was Rs 191 crore and utilisation Rs 13.62 crore), Tamil Nadu used 3 per cent of the amount allocated to it under the Nirbhaya fund (the fund allocated was Rs 190.68 crore and utilisation Rs 6 crore).
Six states and UTs - Maharashtra, Manipur, Meghalaya, Sikkim, Tripura and Daman & Diu - have not spent a single rupee from the fund allocated by the Centre, according to data shared by the minister in Parliament in response to a question.
The data also showed that Delhi, where the brutal incident took place, saw utilisation of less than 5 per cent of the fund allocated to it.
Delhi was allotted Rs 390 crore which was the highest amount among states and UTs but the utilisation certificate of just Rs 19.41 crore has been received from the city-state.
When asked about the same, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said the Centre rejected a Delhi government proposal to use Nirbhaya fund to install CCTV cameras and panic buttons in 5,500 DTC and cluster buses.
"We have not received Rs 390 crore," the chief minister claimed. Telangana, where a 26-year-old vet was recently gang-raped and murdered, spent only Rs 4 crore out of the Rs 103 crore allocated to it by the Union home ministry, which releases money from the Nirbhaya fund for 13 programmes including the Emergency Response Scheme.
On the question of under-utilisation of the Nirbhaya fund, the Centre has put the blame on state governments while state governments complain that money is not released for the proposals given by them to the Empowered Committee that has been tasked with appraising and recommending proposals to be funded under this framework.
The Nirbhaya fund was set up in 2013 by the UPA government to improve the safety and security of women in the aftermath of the brutal gang rape of a 23-year-old paramedic student, who came to be known as Nirbhaya, on the intervening night of December 16-17, 2012, in a moving bus in Delhi by six persons. The woman was severely assaulted before being thrown out on the road. She succumbed to her injuries days later at a Singapore hospital.
Nobel laureate Kailash Satyarthi recently appealed to the government to immediately allocate the entire unspent amount from the Nirbhaya fund for the protection of rape victims and witnesses.
"For how long will rape victims be burnt alive and witnesses turn hostile while MPs debate on the level of security cover for politicians," he had said.
His organisation, Kailash Satyarthi Children's Foundation, urged the Centre and the state governments to treat the recent incidents of rape as a wake-up call and immediately initiate "on a war footing" steps to make public spaces safe and secure for women.