The Case of Missing Nirbhaya Funds
Two painful incidents, in the collective psyche, created a space where none existed before. Many social movements battle amnesia. However, the brutalization of the now deceased Jyoti Singh, the survivor Awindra Pandey (Delhi, 2012) and the now deceased Jisha (Kerala, 2016) brought together a country, which rarely witnesses such unity. This is not a social movement. It is a shriek for justice. A howl, shrill enough to demolish the very placid foundations of apathy, inhumanity and brutal violation of human rights.
What fell into the lap of society upon shaking up the hypothetical mountain were Rs 3000 crores as core corpus fund in the name of ‘Nirbhaya’, an additional Rs 200 crore from Central Victim Compensation Fund (CVCF) and Rs 324 crore from Crimes Against Women (CAW) (Source – International Business Times). The Nirbhaya funds were in the memory of Jyoti Singh so that we can create a society which, in its wildest dreams, does not even as much think in the direction of replicating such a heinous act. As per the last update this year,it was reported by the International Business Times that 40 percent of the Nirbhaya fundslie unspent.
In her personal opinion article, Ms. Kanika Kaul, a personnel working with Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability, mentioned that Nirbhaya funds which were “meant to support initiatives towards protecting the dignity and ensuring safety of women”, is a dud. Ms. Kaul feels that the funds are neither spent nor are they effective at the ground level. The key reason for the failure has been “lack of clear mechanism for operationalization of the fund.” At the time of fund launch declaration, the Ministry of Home Affairs were made the nodal agency for assessment and approval of proposed schemes. Due to the Ministry’s poor performance, the approving authority – Ministry of Women and Child Development has also doubled up as the assessment authority since the year 2015.
Ms. Kaul has stated that the Nirbhaya funds were constituted with the objectives of “gender sensitization of students, front-line service providers in government schemes, police, judiciary; better infrastructure and trained personnel in health systems trained to respond to survivors of violence; gender sensitive planning and designing of public spaces and safe and adequate sanitation facilities”. As per the Ministry of Women and Child Development’s guidelines for Nirbhaya funds, all projects which were proposed to cross the Rs 1000 crore mark were to be whetted by the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs before approval. All projects which were proposed to be anywhere between Rs 100 crore to Rs 999 crore were to be submitted by the Secretary and Minister of the concerned Department or Ministry to the Ministry of Women and Child Development and the Finance Ministry for approval.
Five projects proposed under the Nirbhaya funds are disorganized in their accountability for making public its implementation and expenditure status.In the year 2013, as per the First Post, a Rs 1000 crore project of installing a ‘Save Our Souls’ (SOS) button in mobile phones was proposed. There is no update on the expenditure on the amount so far. However, the media is abuzz that it will be launched in the year 2017. As per the Press Information Bureau, in the year 2014, a Rs 150 crore and a Rs 50 crore proposal were made to ensure that the mobile phones and mobile van system is integrated so that efficient and expedited help could be sent out to women who reached out through distress signals and to establish a safety system for women in public transport, respectively. There is no information from the Ministry on its implementation and expenditure status, let alone giving people the idea of the impact assessment (if at all implemented). This year, two projects ‘One Stop Centre for Women’ and universalization of helpline are proposed, which are worth Rs 18 crore and Rs 69 crore respectively. The taxpayers’ money needs more accountability. What happened to the remaining Rs 1713 crore rupees from the corpus Nirbhaya fund? Let us not even get to the additional fund of Rs 200 crore and Rs 324 crore from CVCF and CAW.We need impact than mere declarations of projects without making clear strategies and most important, a change in the social fabric of the country. It would also be a good idea to consider making humane changes through communications and sensitization rather than keeping the focus system centric. The human nature knows how to break every law that was ever created. The need of the hour is to create a society which chooses to exercise human rights.
“The UPA government sanctioned Rs 1,000 crore for the fund in 2013, and another Rs 1,000 crore was added to it in 2014. Perhaps the UPA government put in the money more to please voters at the time, but there was no real roadmap of how the funds would be spent. This money has remained with the Ministry of Finance,” Dr Ranjana Kumari, director at Centre for Social Research, an NGO that works for the safety and empowerment of women and girls in India, told Business Standard in February 2016.
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