By Kanika Kaul
The high incidence of violence against women and the ensuing public outcry has brought the issue to the forefront of the policy discourse in the last few years, underscoring the need for the government to undertake substantive interventions to address gender based violence. It was against this backdrop that the former Finance Minister, in his Budget Speech in 2013-14 announced the introduction of Nirbhaya Fund, acknowledging that “...As more women enter public spaces – for education or work or access to services or leisure – there are more reports of violence against them”. The fund is meant to support initiatives towards protecting the dignity and ensuring safety of women.
It is well recognised that implementation of legislations and programmes pertaining to women in general, and for addressing violence against women specifically, have been constrained owing to inadequate resources. The effective utilisation of the fund, one of the key provisions in the Union Budget for the safety of women, could have led to improvements in women’s safety in the country in the last couple of years; however the Nirbhaya Fund doesn’t seem to have had any impact on the ground yet.
Though the total magnitude of funds in the corpus itself is not large, the introduction of the fund reinforced the need for coordinated efforts by the government authorities across a range of sectors to ensure safety of women and address gender based violence. In response to a call to central ministries to submit proposals under the Nirbhaya Fund, several ministries such as Road Transport and Highways, and Information and Technology came forward with proposals for measures to enhance women’s safety. However, the lack of a clear mechanism for the operationalisation of the fund has meant that resources allocated under the fund have remained unutilised, even as more resources have been added each year since its inception.
The Nirbhaya fund received an allocation of Rs 1,000 crore in each fiscal year, since its introduction in 2013-14, making it a total corpus of Rs 3,000 crore in 2015-16. The fund remained unutilized in the first two years, despite proposals being received from various ministries.
Subsequently, guidelines for administration and operationalisation of the fund were issued in early 2015, in which the Ministry of Women and Child Development (MWCD) was appointed the nodal ministry to assess the suitability of schemes proposed by ministries/ departments. Likewise, the Department of Economic Affairs under Ministry of Finance is responsible for appraisal of proposals on financial and other aspects to avoid any duplicity of schemes/government efforts in this domain (Government Issues Guidelines for Administration and Operationalization of ‘Nirbhaya Fund’, Press Information Bureau, 1 April 2015). Following this, an Empowered Committee of Officers was also constituted for appraisal and sanction/approval of projects to be financed from the Nirbhaya Fund. The Committee consists of representatives from Ministry of Women and Child Development, Ministry of Home Affairs, Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, Railway Board, Department of Electronics and IT, and Department of Economic Affairs
In the current financial year, proposals by MWCD and Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) amounting to a little over Rs 600 crore have been appraised and recommended under the Nirbhaya Fund. These include allocations for One Stop Centre (Rs 18.6 crore), Universalisation of Women Helpline (Rs 69.5 crore) by MWCD and Creation of Central Victim Compensation Fund for supporting the States/ UT Administrations to implement Victim Compensation Scheme (Rs 200 Crore) and Creation of Investigative Units for Crime against Women in all police districts of the country (Rs 324 Crore) by
MHA (Proposals of more than Rs 600 cr appraised and recommended under the Nirbhaya Fund ,Press Information Bureau, 3 December 2015) .
Until December last year, funds amounting to Rs 10.7 crore have been released for One Stop Centre and an amount of Rs 13.9 crore has been sanctioned for Women Helpline. Ministry of Home Affairs is processing the proposals as per instructions issued by the Department of Economic Affairs, under Nirbhaya Fund for disbursement of funds. It also appears that Ministry of Railways has received an authorization to spend Rs 100 crore during the current financial year from its own resources till funds are made available from the Nirbhaya Fund through the next batch of supplementary demands, after obtaining the necessary administrative approval, including from the Empowered Committee (Ministry of Finance Circular dated 26 October 2015) .
Another concern with the utilisation of the fund has been a narrow range of ministries coming forth with proposals with measures for women’s safety. In the coming year, it is imperative that a broader range of departments/ ministries in sectors like education, health, urban development and sanitation take initiatives to address some fundamental challenges to women’s safety as well as strengthen the existing mechanisms to provide support to survivors of violence.
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 are some measures that would go a long way in meeting the objectives with which the Nirbhaya Fund was instituted.
It is indeed paradoxical that despite a strong need for channelizing a greater magnitude of public resources towards interventions for women’s safety, the resources allocated for the purpose through the Fund remain unutilised. It is hoped that the Finance minister Arun Jaitley would make a strong push to operationalise the Nirbhaya Fund and increase the magnitude of resources under the Fund in the coming fiscal year.
The author works with Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability (CBGA), New Delhi. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. The views expressed are personal.