Union Budget 2015: Jaitley dumps Rs 1,000 crore into Nirbhaya fund, but who is going to use it?
The only occasion when Jaitley mentioned women's safety was when he added Rs 1,000 crores to the existent Rs 1,000 crores in the Nirbhaya fund.
Even before Finance Minister Arun Jaitley could catch his breath after delivering his budget speech, he had been pronounced the champion of economic reforms in India by Twitter, with the Modi government treated to resounding applause.
However, in the budget which was promptly labelled 'Big Bang' by observers, women's safety didn't feature in any significant way.
The only occasion when Jaitley mentioned women's safety was when he added Rs 1,000 crores to the existent Rs 1,000 crores in the Nirbhaya fund. The fund, which was instituted by the UPA government in 2013, was carried forward by Jaitley last year. However, in the two years after it had been created, not a penny has been spent from it.
This is mystifying, especially considering the fact that the budget for the hyped Rape Crisis Centres have been slashed right before the tabling of the Union Budget. While last year, Maneka Gandhi promised 660 rape crisis centres, the number of the same has reportedly been slashed to 36.
In his speech, Jaitley said, " In order to support Programmes for women security, advocacy and awareness, I propose to provide another Rs. 1,000 crore to the Nirbhaya Fund."
Though the various social security schemes pertaining to women were allotted Rs 79,258 crore, provisions to boost women's safety will have to covered by the Nirbhaya fund.
Last year, the government had allotted a total Rs 200 crore to enhance women's safety. Rs 150 crore was allotted for making cities safer for women and Rs 50 crore was allotted towards making public transport safer.
However, in the ensuing year, we witnessed headline-grabbing cases of sexual assault. From the rape of an upper middle class woman in a Uber Cab in Gurgaon to the brutal rape and murder of a Nepali domestic help's sister in Rohtak, sexual violence showed no signs of abating in the country.
Except, for announcing the Rape Crisis Centres and some small cosmetic initiatives, no big schemes, awareness drives or support infrastructure was built in the last year. Let's say the Modi government followed in the footprints of all the earlier governments, making vacuous announcements that were hardly followed up with action.
This year round too, women's safety figured for a fleeting moment in the budget, with no schemes or initiatives announced by the FM himself. If the women and child development ministry's track record in the area is anything to go by, adding Rs 1,000 crore to the Nirbhaya fund seems like a patchwork on the ministry's dismal performance in the last year.
Jaitley has effectively eased the burden of women's safety off his shoulders by announcing an impressive amount of money for the purpose of safety. Now, he can conveniently point at the women and child development ministry in terms of how they plan to use it.
However, we can safely say that the Nirbhaya Fund represents all that is wrong with the government's approach to women's safety.
First of all, the name, steeped in melodrama, is actually a theatrical expression of how committed the government is to the cause of women. Invoking the memories of the December 16 gang-rape victim, who died a cruel death, the government's commitment to the cause of her clan seems to have ended with the nomenclature. In this case, perhaps, the NDA can thank UPA II for making its job easier.
If anyone ever asks, "what has the government done for women's safety in India?", ministers and politicians can enthusiastically point at the Nirbhaya Fund and the Rs 2,000 crore in its kitty. However, we are yet to come across a credible model of spending the fund.
The Railways Minister has announced that a part of the fund will be used to install CCTV in trains, in the hope of making long distance trains safer for women. Now we all know the plight of CCTV cameras in government properties to find that reassuring.
What we perhaps need first, is a large scale sensitisation programme for the police force, who continue to bungle while dealing with cases of sexual violence. Then we need to strengthen the police force and induct more women into it. Large stretches of even cities have no security, one can imagine how pathetic, the safety of women is in rural and suburban areas.
The Rape Crisis Centres was a move in the right direction, however, this iniative seems to have fallen out of favour with the government. One has to remember that unless stepping out of homes and working becomes safe for women across the country, there's now way any social development or security scheme will be successful. For example, how does the government envisage the success of a scheme like "Beti Padhao" when said girls can't step out and go to a school or college without fear of getting sexually assaulted?
How are women supposed to participate in the work force, take advantage of government employment schemes when public travel and public spaces themselves are becoming hostile and unsafe, increasingly?
'Nirbhaya' means fearless. The government should realise, that is something most Indian women don't dare to be. And they are doing nothing to change that.
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