With All Posts Vacant, National Commission For Women Has Just A Chairperson Holding Office
The National Commission for Woman (NCW), an autonomous body constituted in 1992 under the NCW Act, is supposed to protect and promote women and their interests. The commission that has lent out support to the Indian women’s cause in the wake of the #MeToo charges and asked everyone to file written complaint with NCW, has no members other than the chairperson currently.
A recent report by The Indian Express revealed that the five member-posts in the NCW have been vacant after Alok Rawat completed his three-year term on October 19 this year. Chairperson Rekha Sharma is the only person holding office right now. She became the chairperson after her term as the member got over in August.
Of the five posts in NCW, two posts are reserved for Scheduled Caste (SC) and Scheduled Tribe (ST) representatives. The terms of Shamina Shafiq and Laldingliani Sailo expired in August 2015 and September 2016 and since then the posts have been vacant. Another member Sushma Sahu’s term got over in August.
When The Indian Express contacted an official from the Women and Child Development (WCD) Ministry, they said that the proposal is underway and new members would be recruited soon. When asked about the vacancies, NCW Chairperson Rekha Sharma said, “Yes, there is an increase in workload especially since all five positions are vacant but we are handling it somehow. The issue of appointments is handled by the PMO and the WCD ministry. We were recently told that the selection process for all five members is almost complete.”
Responsibilities of NCW
Other than looking at domestic violence and other grievances, with the outpour of sexual harassment in workplace complaints by Indian women from the fields of journalism, media, film industry and even bureaucracy, the NCW urged women to write to a dedicated email address ([email protected]).
NCW is also scheduled to hold consultations with legal experts and civil society stakeholders on possible legislative amendments to the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013.
Reprimanded by CIC
While there was an influx of #Metoo allegations, Central Information Commission (CIC) reprimanded NCW for washing their hands off a case and told them that they are not a post-office.
In an order dated October 16, CIC noted: “The NCW is not a post office to simply forward the complaints to concerned accused office and wash of hands (sic).” CIC called out NCW for forwarding an RTI query regarding a complaint to Damodar Valley Corporation (DVC), a government body, where the alleged harassment took place.
The complaint was filed by the husband of a former employee of DVC. NCW forwarded the RTI to DVC by claiming “National Commission for Women is not a monitoring authority of sexual harassment cases”.
However, CIC said that NCW cannot just shrug off responsibilities. “We need to examine what happened in this case, where the victim complained, but she was further victimised, then she filed an RTI application to NCW, which was simply forwarded to the organisation which was harassing her with inaction on her complaint,” the CIC said in its order, reported The Wire.
Draft bill still pending
The crucial National Commission for Women draft Bill is still pending with PMO after the Arun Jaitley-led Group of Ministers approved it in 2015. The Bill, if passed, will further strengthen the NCW.
It will give NCW the power of a civil court, allowing it to impose fines on offenders, demand documents, or ask a magistrate to issue arrest warrants if anyone defies its orders. The Bill has still not been tabled in the parliament.
At an event held to mark the 25th anniversary of the NCW in January this year, the commission was questioned on the political patronage of the NCW members. The members have to be committed to the cause of women and should be among people of ability, integrity and those who have had experience in law, trade union, women’s voluntary organisations, administration, economic development, health, education or social welfare.
The Logical Indian Take
This year, NCW is celebrating its silver jubilee but with no members. The members have a set three-year term, so basically, the government knows when the vacancies are going to emerge. However, even the vacancies from 2015-2016 are yet to be filled. With the #MeToo movement, many women came forward in India and their courage shed a light on the dismal state of affairs in various fields, sectors and professions. However, if the body which is supposed to “facilitate the redressal of grievances” is pathetically understaffed then what about the victims.
The Logical Indian hopes that the vacancies in the commission are filled as soon as possible. Every day thousands of women and children are abused in this country. They face further abuse as the patriarchal structure of the country refuses to believe them. The National Commission for Women should be equipped with sufficient manpower, judicial power and infrastructure to ensure women in this country at least find justice.