In May 2016, the Supreme Court issued a notice to the centre and all the state governments, questioning why the Nirbhaya Fund has been left largely unused. On 27 January 2017, the Ministry of Women and Child Development clarified its position and expenditures.
The funds, though availed in various non-implemented schemes, remain unutilised. Which is disappointing since they now amount to over Rs 3000 crore and can really make an impact in the fight to make India safe for women.
What is the Nirbhaya Fund?
Following the 2012 Delhi gang rape case, the Government announced the Nirbhaya Fund. It was announced by then Finance Minister P Chidambaram in his 2013 Union Budget and was to provide Rs 1000 crore annually to support initiatives by the government and NGOs that aim to ensure the safety of women in India.
In the 2017-2018 Union Budget, the government increased the Nirbhaya Fund by almost 90%.
Proposals by various ministries
Following the constitution of the Fund, a committee comprised of the Women and Child Development Ministry, Railways, Road Transport, Home Affairs, and other ministries was constituted to approve schemes under the Nirbhaya Fund. Ministries/departments concerned were requested to formulate proposals to utilise the resources in the Fund with a view to better the safety and security of women in the country.
The proposals can be read here.
The funds have high potential – but this potential remains untapped
For the first two years, despite several suggestions and proposals, the Fund remained largely unused. In 2015, it was decided that the Women and Child Development Ministry would be the nodal authority, and the Department of Economic Affairs under the Finance Ministry would scrutinise the financial appraisals of the funds.
The same year, Indian Railways took the initiative of installing CCTV cameras to assure the security of passengers. It was to be done in 20000 coaches at a cost of Rs 700 crore from the Nirbhaya Fund.
However, in 2016, a parliamentary standing committee report highlighted the under-utilisation of the funds. The report said, “It has been brought to the notice of the Committee that for the past 3 to 4 years, almost all the funds are lying idle. It is a complete irony that on one hand, crimes, against women are on the rise and on the other, funds allotted to tackle this issue has remained unutilised.”
This is not to say that the government has not introduced schemes to ensure women’s safety. Schemes have been introduced, but these schemes have not been implemented.
Schemes proposed by the government under the Nirbhaya Scheme
According to the Ministry of Women and Child Development, the government has introduced the following main schemes, besides a few other schemes still under their preliminary stages. However, even the main schemes are yet to be wholly implemented. They are:
- The One Stop Centre Scheme is being implemented across the country since 1 April 2015. It aims at establishing centres to facilitate women affected by violence. It provides first aid, medical aid, police assistance, legal aid, and counselling support. So far, 79 One Stop Centres have become operational. All the 186 centres are expected to be operational by July 2017.
- Helpline specifically for women with a common number across the country will link the One Stop Centres being established by the Ministry of Women & Child Development. The Department of Telecommunication has allocated the number 181 to all States/UTs for Women Helpline. So far, Women Helplines are already operational in 18 States/UTs although funds have been released by Govt. of India to 33 States/UTs.
- Mahila Police Volunteers (MPVs) will act as a link between police and community and help women in distress. Haryana has become the first state to start the Mahila Police Volunteer scheme. It was launched at Karnal on 14 December 2016. Other states are expected to implement the scheme soon.
The Logical Indian take
There needs to be no clarification on the point that we need to invest in ways to curb sexual violence and make women and sexual minorities feel safer in India – especially in our public spaces. The Nirbhaya Fund was introduced keeping this in mind. Seeing the high worth and potential of the scheme, the government must appreciate this and utilise the fund for the betterment of the society.
Many ministries have pitched proposals, and the Ministry of Women and Child Development has begun work on many schemes as well. The pace of this has to be enhanced and it must be ensured that every rupee of the Fund is spent judiciously and effectively.