Nirbhaya Fund Remains Unspent. Happy Women's Day

Published: March 07, 2017 13:05 IST
On the morning of March 8, International Women's Day, I will find myself sharing the stage with Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal at a ceremony to acknowledge and award women achievers. This is a subject I often think about, especially after so many of our meetings as part of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs. At such meetings, we discuss women's safety and related issues, but frankly do not deliver.

This is a problem across our system. In the two years of 2014 and 2015, 11,000 crimes against women were reported in Delhi. As of February 2016, only 50 per cent had been investigated. In the period from 2012 to 2014, 31,000 crimes against women were reported across the country. Only 146 resulted in convictions. These numbers tell a story - of apathy, callousness, the correlation between investigation (or lack of it) and low convictions.

As far back as 2007, a scheme was announced to achieve digitisation of FIRs and online monitoring of the status of cases involving crimes against women. This was meant as a bolster for women's safety. Despite the strengths of our IT industry and the skills of our software professionals, we have not been able to achieve this. I hope the BJP government takes this as a priority as part of its Digital India mission.

Crimes against women are a national embarrassment. In December 2012, after the horrific Nirbhaya rape and murder case in Delhi, the then government was galvanised into action. As part of the 2013 Budget, it announced a Nirbhaya Fund, with an initial allocation of Rs 1,000 crore. Matching allocations were made in 2014 and 2015. 

Yet, in April 2015, it was found the Home Ministry had spent only one per cent of the fund. This was when the Ministry of Women and Child Development was made the nodal agency for the fund. From 2013 to 2017, the Rs 3,000 crore in the Nirbhaya Fund has remained almost entirely unspent. In 2016 and 2017, the Finance Minister didn't even mention women's safety in his Budget speech. It's back to normal.

In 2015-16, the Budget Estimate for the Home Ministry's schemes on women's safety was Rs 69 crore. In the Revised Estimate, it was reduced to Rs 2 crore. In 2016-17, Delhi Police received Rs 3.14 crore as outlay for women's safety issues. It managed to spend only Rs 15 lakh. Delhi Police, of course, comes directly under the Union Home Ministry. If successive central governments have such a record, what can one say?

The Nirbhaya Fund was meant to have an expansive agenda. It was expected to set up a National Emergency Response System (NERS). In 2014-15, Rs 150 crore was meant to be spent on NERS, another Rs 150 crore in 2015-16, and Rs 300 crore in 2016-17. The actual expenditure was: Rs 2.36 crore (2014-15); Rs 3.23 crore (2015-16); and Rs 26.45 crore (2016-17). Those numbers say it all.

The Nirbhaya Fund was also meant to seed the Central Victim's Compensation Fund (CVCF). CVCF initially received Rs 200 crore from the Nirbhaya Fund to rehabilitate victims of acid attacks medically and emotionally, and allow them to pursue legal proceedings to their conclusion.

However, the compensation under CVCF can be accessed only after the court passes judgement, not when the FIR is filed or charge-sheet is finalised. Since legal cases drag on and on in our country, the victim is essentially on her own and has to find her own resources to get legal support.

After the Nirbhaya case, there was a move to set up "panic buttons" on smart phones and link these with GPS tracking software. The scheme was launched in Jaipur and Delhi recently and requires a panic button software to be downloaded on smart phones. In an emergency situation, this "panic button" can be used to send a signal to the police control room and will allow it to locate where the phone and its user are. The Himmat app, as it is called, has been downloaded 80,000 times in Delhi. But the number of registered users is only 30,000. It is available in English and requires a smart phone and mobile Internet. How useful is this to the average woman in the capital? Information on how many times the app has been used by women in distress, and how quickly Delhi Police has responded, is not publicly available. We have no way to test the success of Himmat.

It is worth remembering that the Justice JS Verma Committee, established after the Nirbhaya incident, had recommended a simple hotline as the basis of the emergency response system. The smart-phone based panic button was recommended only additionally. Where is the hotline? 

So have things changed since Nirbhaya and December 2012? My piece should have indicated enough, but I will leave you with the Outcome Budget of the Home Ministry. Under the head of "Women's Safety", its goal is to spend a trifling Rs 28.90 crore from the Nirbhaya Fund: "On provision of essential items and equipment to enhance the capability of the women police force for training and holding camps for self-defence training in school/colleges."

This is the situation in Delhi, under the nose of the Union Home Ministry and the central government. How has the state government in Bengal done on the issue of women's security and well-being, and on related concerns of children and public health? I will write about that next week.

Derek O'Brien is leader, parliamentary party Trinamool Congress (RS), and Chief National spokesperson of the party.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

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