WCD Ministry: More of promises, less of implementation

NEW DELHI, Dec 31:  For Maneka Gandhi’s Women and Child Development Ministry, 2016 comes to an end not with a bang but with a whimper as many tall promises were marred by institutional delays.

A slew of big-ticket measures on ensuring safety for women were announced within months of Prime Minister Narendra Modi taking over but many of those remain poorly executed.

The provision of One Stop Centres (OSCs) under the Nirbhaya Fund was aimed at providing support to survivors of sexual crimes. At the start, in 2015, a lofty target of 660 centres – one for each district – was set. This had to be implemented in phases.

The ministry announced setting up of 36 such centres in the first phase. In the second phase, launched in May 2016, an additional 150 OSCs had to be set up.

To be able to accomplish this, Maneka announced that five-six new centres would be launched every month.

Fast forward to December 2016, there are a mere 20 OSCs on the ground. This figure is as per the ministry’s reply in Parliament during the Winter Session.

Another scheme under the Nirbhaya Fund, Universalisation of Women Helpline, remains similarly under-executed. The scheme envisages 24-hour emergency and non-emergency response to all women affected by violence, both in public and private sphere, through one number, 181, across the country.

As per information shared by the ministry in Parliament, only five states shared the data on number of complaints received through the Women Helpline. According to which, a mere 694 complaints were received from these states since its launch 20 months ago, an abysmally small number when compared to 1,30,000 sexual crimes nationwide in 2015 alone as recorded by National Crime Record Bureau.

While the Centre maintains that it has issued funds to the states and the implementation by the latter is poor, various states are reluctant to adopt the new scheme because many already have helplines of their own.

A senior ministry official also acknowledged that the helpline conceptualised by the Centre is comparatively “rudimentary”.

According to ministry sources, the Centre also doesn’t feel the urgency to push for 181 when there are state helplines reaching out to women, which raises questions about why such a scheme was announced in the first place.

The Mahila Police Volunteer scheme of the Centre which provides for an interface between police and society in order to help women in distress has so far been implemented only by Haryana and that too in two districts.

Modi’s pet project Beti Bachao Beti Padao aims to check decline in child sex ratio across 161 worst-performing districts. While its success can be gauged only during the next Census enumeration, the ministry maintains that of the 100 districts where it was launched, 58 have shown increasing trend in sex ratio at birth between April-March 2014-15 and 2015-16.

According to government claims, 69 districts have reported progress in the first trimester registration and institutional deliveries have “improved in 80 districts” against the total reported deliveries in comparison to the previous year.

New legislations like the anti-human trafficking bill being prepared by the Women and Child Development Ministry remain in limbo because of the ongoing consultations with various ministries involved.

According to sources, both the Law Ministry as well as Ministry of Home Affairs have raised several objections to the provisions in the draft bill.

One of the highlights of the draft bill is the setting up of an Anti-Human Trafficking Bureau. However, MHA has raised concerns about such a body and wants NIA to carry out such investigations, according to a senior ministry official.

As a result, Maneka missed the deadline she had set for placing the bill before Parliament during the Winter Session.

The Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Bill which extends maternity leave from 12 weeks to 26 weeks would have been her big achievement of the year but that was not to be as the bill could not be tabled before Lok Sabha during the Winter Session because of Opposition uproar over demonetisation even though Rajya Sabha had passed it during the Monsoon Session.

Maneka had proposed to the Labour Ministry last year to provide 8 months of leave to expectant mothers citing WHO’s recommendations for six months’ exclusive breastfeeding to infants for their healthy growth and development. That proposal was truncated to 26 weeks by Union Labour Minister Bandaru Dattatreya.

However, Maneka drew flak for treating childcare as a woman’s prerogative. In Rajya Sabha, few women MPs like Anu Agha and Rajni Patil voiced their concerns.

In an interview to a national daily, Maneka said “paternity leave will be just a holiday” and faced a huge backlash but later she amended it to say that she hopes that in future there will be a more sophisticated bill.

Another matter that Maneka considers very close to her heart is adoption and the challenge before the ministry is to ensure that children enter registered childcare institutions.

But a very small adoption pool of 1,800 children for nearly 12,000 parents has meant not only that one has to wait for over a year to take a child home but also that illegal buying and selling of many orphaned and abandoned children continues unabated.

The ministry also met officials from Twitter and Facebook to deal with the menace of online trolling wherein several women users were being threated with sexual violence. Maneka invited anyone with a complaint to get in touch with her directly. A cyber cell in the ministry was set up to coordinate with social media platforms and law enforcement agencies to curb such instances.

Similarly, rules were laid down for matrimonial websites to ensure they are not misused for duping women.

After a campaign by NGO Change.Org, the ministry also wrote to Ministry of External Affairs to simplify passport rules for single mothers which was one of the several changes recently introduced by the Sushma Swaraj-led ministry. (PTI)