The 31 Member Department-related Standing Committee on HRD headed by Rajya Sabha MP Dr Satyanarayan Jatiya presented its report on ‘Issues related to Safety of Women” to the Rajya Sabha today.
The Committee examined the issue at length with senior officials of concerned Ministries. Jolted by the gruesome rape and murder of a young girl in Hyderabad in November 2019 which shook the conscience of the nation, the Committee pained by the incident, decided to threadbare examine “Issues related to Safety of Women” to understand the causes of occurrences of such instances and to suggest remedial steps to develop a zero-tolerance policy against such heinous crimes.
The Committee noted that as per the National Crime Records Bureau data for 2018, the total number of all forms of crimes against women have been raising continuously from one decade. In 2012 the number of such crimes was 244270 which rose to 359849 in 2017 and 378277 in 2018.
Crimes against women transcends geography, class, culture, age, race and religion and In India, they have many manifestations such as domestic and sexual violence including rape, sexual harassment, child sexual abuse, trafficking for commercial sexual exploitation, harmful practices such as dowry harassment, honour-related crimes, acid attacks, witch-hunting, child marriage, sex-selective abortion etc.
The Committee highlighted that that spurt in crimes against women indicated that the present mechanism is not working satisfactorily and a more humane and effective system needs to be evolved through interventions at various levels by bringing out integrated changes in an innovative way: The Committee made 32 recommendations under five categories. Highlights of some of the recommendations are as under:
The committee noted that despite the number of legislations being in place regarding discrimination and violence against women, such incidents are unabated which is a cause of grave concern indicating ineffective implementation of legislations and recommends, strict implementation of the legislation relating to safety and security of women filing of charge sheet in such cases within 30 days, denying bail to the accused and expediting the disposal of pending cases within 6 months time so that timely justice is imparted.
The committee recommended thirty-three per cent reservation for women at all levels right from Panchayats to Parliament at the earliest to increase the representation of women in the decision-making process.
Committee noted that delayed justice for Nirbhaya is a blot on our collective conscience and the public hailing of police action in Hyderabad case echoes the sentiment of the society that the guilty be punished immediately are a call for introspection for both the Ministry of Law and Justice and Ministry of Home Affairs.
Committee recommended setting up of permanent Fast Track Courts with appropriate legislative backing along with a mandate to decide the cases within 6 months of the occurrence of the incident. Committee also recommends having a balanced distribution of Fast Track Special Courts in States to expedite and ideally there should be one FTSC within 500 km of diameter.
Infrastructure Development & Institutional Strengthening
The committee recommended setting up women cells in all the police stations of the country with dedicated trained female police officers/staff for handling gender-based violence cases to instil confidence in victims of sexual violence for lodging complaints.
Committee strongly recommended that the Ministry of Home Affairs should operationalise a single helpline number for registering all complaints about seeking help in cases of the safety of women related issues which should be prominently displayed at all railway stations, public transport and other public places.
The committee noted that current conviction rate in rape cases is only 32% as against filing of charge sheets in 86.6% cases and recommends that the Ministry of Home Affairs set up one forensic laboratory in the country in every state capital within 2 years time for expediting building a strong case against the offenders.
The committee noted that the pilot project ‘Safe City Proposal’ for 8 cities needs to be expanded to cover rural and urban areas in all States urgently and recommends that Home Affairs should integrate planning for women’s safety in coordination with Ministry of Urban Development for all 100 smart cities.
The committee observed that there is no comprehensive law for the prevention of Trafficking of persons and recommends that a National Anti-Trafficking Bureau having police officers, NGOs, and other stakeholders should be established with powers to investigate cases involving two or more States along with the power to coordinate with international law enforcement agencies and formulate measures for combating and prevention of trafficking in children & women.
The Committee recommended that the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways should co-ordinate with States for providing safety features in public transport and a special cell be created to receive and deal with emergency situations.
The committee observed that while some States have proposed for CCTV surveillance, panic button and controllers in public transport, no data is available to assess whether the proposals have been actually implemented and recommends that Ministry of Road Transport and Highways should frame a unified policy for mandatory installing of CCTV surveillance, panic button and controllers in public transport across the country in a time-bound manner.
The committee noted with concern unavailability of mechanism to register the incidents of sexual harassment and violence in trains and recommends that the Ministry of Railways in coordination with Ministry of Home Affairs should set up a mechanism to lodge the case in the train itself and complaint centres be set up at every station.
The committee noted that two projects of Video Surveillance System at 983 stations and 67 stations of Konkan Railway planned by the Ministry of Railways is insufficient keeping in mind 8500 operational railway stations in the country with over 9200 trains operating daily and recommends that the same should be implemented at all the stations across the country.
Role of Education in Societal Transformation
Committee recommended the inclusion of chapters on moral values in the school curriculum and textbooks of NCERT for students right from an early age as they can easily grasp and develop their personalities inculcating those values and it should be made a regular feature in all classes.
The Committee further recommended that Universities and Colleges should pro-actively generate awareness about the responsibility of the citizens to make our cities safe for the women by organizing camps in their respective areas.
The committee observed that crucial evidence is lost due to delay in conducting a medico-legal examination of victims and recommends that the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare should strengthen medical centres especially in rural and remote areas of the country and regularly update doctors and Para-medical staff for handling victims of violence with empathy and due sensitivity and also on the legal requirements to ensure that loopholes in the medico/legal report are not exploited by the accused.
Effective utilization of the Nirbhaya Fund
The committee noted that out of the total appraised amount under the Nirbhaya Fund of Rs 7436.66 crores for 32 different projects/schemes across the country only Rs 2647.89 crore had been disbursed by the concerned Ministries/Departments and recommends that Ministries/Departments should ensure that the funds are utilized promptly for women safety.
The Committee recommended that the status of implementation of the projects/schemes under the Nirbhaya Fund should be overseen by a Committee under the Chairmanship of the Cabinet Secretary.
Committee pointed out that majority of the States have utilized only 20 to 30 per cent of funds allocated to them under One-Stop Centers (OSC), Women Helpline (WHL) Schemes and recommends that the Ministry of Women and Child Development should have direct meetings with the State Governments and UT administration quarterly to monitor the expenditure of funds on the above-mentioned schemes and ensure that One-stop crisis centres are set-up in each District of the country and counsellors trained to handle victims of gender-based violence should be associated with these centres.