Introducing Nirbhaya Fund: Protect our Women!

by May 4, 2018 0 comments

Protect our WomenGender-based violence cannot be eliminated by higher budgetary outlays. The policies are bound to have minimum impact if they are not backed up by inclusive public spending.

A little over five years ago, the Nirbhaya case shook the nation’s conscience and brought people to the streets in protest against the high incidence of violence against women in the country. The Government, under pressure, took swift measures to address the issue. It passed the Criminal Law (Amendment Act), 2013 (Nirbhaya Act) to bring amendments to laws on sexual offenses. Along with this, the Union Government introduced the Nirbhaya Fund to “protect the dignity and ensure the safety of women in India”.

The Kathua and Unnao cases have once again stirred public outrage, prompting the Cabinet to approve an Ordinance, awarding death penalty for those convicted of raping girls below the age of 12 years. While questions have been raised about the rationale of such a move, arguing against its futility, questions also arise about the intent of successive Governments to address fundamental gaps in the programmatic framework to address violence against women.

Given the sense of urgency witnessed at the time of the Nirbhaya case, it is worth reviewing how Government interventions for addressing violence against women fared in the last few years. Both, budgetary allocations and the utilisation for the concerned schemes throw concerns. Against the recommendations of the Working Group on Women’s Agency and Empowerment for the 12th Five Year Plan, allocations for the five-year period (2012-13 to 2016-17) to Swadhar Greh scheme (shelter homes for women in distress) and One Stop Centres scheme (OSC), which are meant to provide integrated support and assistance to women affected by violence, have been 65 per cent and 74 per cent respectively. Of the allocated funds, fund utilisation in both schemes was 62 per cent and 77 per cent respectively.

Other schemes, such as Ujjawala (for prevention of trafficking) and Mahila Police Volunteer initiative received small allocations of Rs 50 crore and seven crore rupee in 2018-19 respectively. Moreover, the Union Government’s scheme for ‘Assistance to States for implementation of Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005′ was withdrawn in 2015-16 after funds allocated for the scheme remained unutilised. The operationalisation of Nirbhaya fund too has been plagued by a dearth of appropriate proposals and low levels of fund utilisation.

How does this reflect on the implementation of interventions? The coverage of most interventions is distinctly low. For instance, against the Union Government’s initial proposal of establishing an OSC in each district, only 236 have been approved, of which, 170 OSCs are operational (as of February 2018). Likewise, with a total of 559 Swadhar Greh in the country (as of December 2017), the distribution of these across States is highly skewed. Provisions made under these schemes also fall short of meeting requirements. OSCs, for instance, have a maximum provision for accommodating five women at a time.

Media reports have regularly highlighted the deficiencies in services being provided at these centres. Likewise, a recent report by the National Commission for Women has brought to light how, among other factors, lack of sufficient funds is constraining the quality of services provided in Swadhar homes. Effective implementation of policies and legislations quite simply require adequate funds. Violence against women is unarguably a complex issue, a reflection of the imbalance in gender relations in society. Higher budgetary outlays by themselves will not be able to eliminate gender-based violence but are nonetheless critical to ensure an effective response mechanism to provide appropriate support to women in distress.

Moreover, budgetary allocations for schemes specifically meant to address violence against women, reveals important gaps, more fundamentally, investing in women’s education, health, paid employment and ensuring access to basic, quality services would help reduce their vulnerability to violence. The neglect of women’s interests in budgets, and of other disadvantaged sections of the population for that matter, is not a recent phenomenon. It is time we recognise that policies and legislations, though crucial, by themselves would only achieve limited impact unless backed by adequate public spending.

(The writer works with the Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability)

Writer: Kanika Kaul

Courtesy: The Pioneer

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