As the nation is engulfed by protests and demonstrations over the rape and murder of a 27-year-old veterinarian in Hyderabad, the Centre informed Parliament that five states and a Union Territory have not utilised a single penny of the Nirbhaya Fund granted to them by the Union Home Ministry to firm up women's safety.
According to the Centre, Maharashtra, Manipur, Meghalaya, Sikkim, Tripura and Daman and Diu have not utilised the fund at all, even though the home ministry allocated Rs 18,292 lakh to them.
According to the data tabled by the Ministry of Women and Child Development, as of November 2019, more than 91 percent of the money sanctioned to the states and UTs by the home ministry remains unused. Of the Rs 1,672 crore allocated by the ministry, only Rs 147 crore has been used.
Telangana, which has been witnessing protest marches and a political blame game since the veterinarian's rape and murder came to light, had used just 4 percent or Rs 4.19 crore of the Rs 103 crore allocated to it, whereas Delhi, notorious as the rape capital of India, used only 5 percent of the Rs 390 crore sanctioned.
This apart, reports have said that Telangana used only Rs 1.38 crore of the Rs 13.96 crore allocated to it under the Nirbhaya Fund to establish 'One Stop Centres' (OSCs) meant "to provide integrated support and assistance to women affected by violence, both in private and public spaces and to facilitate immediate, emergency and non-emergency access to a range of services including medical, legal, psychological and counselling support under one roof."
According to a report in Hindu Business Line, between 2015 and 2019 the Centre disbursed Rs 1,813 crore under the fund.
The Nirbhaya Fund, set up under UPA-II, was set up after the brutal rape and murder of the 23-year-old paramedic student in Delhi in 2012. The fund, administered by the Department of Economic Affairs, Ministry of Finance, comes under the Ministry of Women and Child Development. According to official guidelines, "The concerned State Government/Department will formulate a proposal for women security and safety with regard to their specific sector (for example " road transport, police, power, etc) and submit the same to concerned Central government ministry/department..."
Interestingly, in July this year, according to a reply tabled in the Lok Sabha by the Ministry of Women and Child Development, the home ministry was supposed to start an Emergency Response Support System (ERSS), which is a pan-India single emergency number " 112 " for all emergencies. No fund, however, was released for this project in 2014-15 and 2015-16, leading to lowutilisation rates and non-initiation of the scheme by States, reports have stated.
Now, contrast this inaction on the ground to the din created by several senior Members of Parliament and noted politicians, who called for public lynching, and capital punishment for the accused.
Leading the charge in Parliament on Monday, Rajya Sabha MP Jaya Bachchan said such perpetrators need to be "shamed in public and lynched" and demanded answers from the government. "If you have not been able to provide security then leave it to the public to give judgment. Those who failed to provide security and those who committed the crime should be exposed in public," Bachchan said.
Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam's (DMK) P Wilson took it a step further, saying courts should be empowered to "surgically and chemically castrate convicted rapists" before they are released from jail as to check repeat offenders. " The cost of such procedure should be recovered from the accused by selling his assets," Wilson said.
As MPs expressed anguish over the Hyderabad rape and murder case, Rajya Sabha Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu suggested that the practice of allowing convicts in heinous crimes to go in for mercy appeals be changed.
"What happens even after punishment is given (to convicts). We all are witness... appeal, mercy (petition)... can anybody think of having mercy on such people?" he asked. Terming violence against women as a "societal illness", he also suggested photographs of people found guilty of crimes against women be published to instill in them fear of social stigma.
Under the Nirbhaya fund, Punjab was allocated Rs 1,185.37 lakh for 2014-2019 under a scheme that provides for a one-stop redressal window for women facing any form of violence. It issued a utilisation certificate of Rs 65.62 lakh. The home ministry has released Rs 1,656.71 crore in the last five years to states and Union Territories. Of them, utilisation certificates of only Rs 146.98 crore have been given by the states. To be sure, of the 13 projects under the MHA, certificates were filed for just nine, Hindustan Times reported.
According to a report, the five states that ranked top in terms of utilisation of money across various schemes under the Nirbhaya Fund were Chandigarh, which used 59.83 percent of the allocated funds, Mizoram at 56.32 percent, Uttarakhand at 51.68 percent, Andhra Pradesh at 43.23 percent and Nagaland at 38.17 percent. The Hindu reported that the government data shows more money was utilised by Chandigarh than what was allocated to it under Central Victim Compensation Fund as well as Women Helpline Scheme.
The question is why our legislators are not making the right noises. Instead of pitching for a mob-pleasing attitude and shrill cacophony around a brutal crime, thus trivialising the issue, state governments and the Centre must seriously look into their own coffers and do what is necessary.
As this Firstpost article argues, "Will incidents of rape cases in India start falling if perpetrators are allowed to be lynched instantly by mobs? Such incendiary comments may help release the collective frustration of an outraged society and satiate the anger, but it unwittingly also encourages us to disrespect law. One of the biggest reasons why politicians and lawmakers take recourse to sensationalism instead of finding constructive and pragmatic solutions to reduce sexual violence is that the issue is systemic and would require deep-seated reforms. Callous remarks deflect from the real issue. Once the immediacy of the incident is behind us and passions die down, nothing is done to effect systemic changes because a release has already happened."