Without adequate central funding for the schemes for women’s safety in the Budget, implementation will suffer.
The need to address the high levels of crime against women in different parts of the country has been a stated priority of political parties across the board. Recent Budget speeches of the Union Finance Ministers too have underscored the need for policy pronouncements for women’s safety to be backed by adequate budgetary outlays. However, a close analysis of Union Budget 2017-18 reflects that despite the recognition of the issue, the budgetary outlays fall short of providing adequate allocations for the various Union Government interventions instituted for this purpose.
A useful starting point to analyse Union Budget 2017-18 from the perspective of women’s safety would be a scrutiny of the operationalisation of the Nirbhaya Fund. Of the total allocation of Rs 3000 crore, as of January 2017, sixteen proposals amounting to Rs 2,187 crore by different ministries/departments/states were reported to have been appraised and recommended by the Empowered Committee of Officers. However, from the information reported in Union Budget 2017-18, it appears that funds amounting to about Rs 1100 crore were allocated to Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), Ministry of Railways (MOR) and Ministry of Women and Child Development (MWCD) in 2016-17, while proposals worth Rs 713 crore are allocated to MHA and MWCD in 2017-18 under the Fund. While the allocations to States are not known yet, it is disappointing to note that hardly any substantive interventions have been undertaken under the Fund.
The implementation of legislations pertaining to women also requires adequate funding. For instance, it was hoped that Union Budget 2017-18 would re-introduce the scheme for Assistance to States for Implementation of the Domestic Violence Act, 2005, which was never operationalised, and withdrawn from the Union Budget in 2015-16. Though almost all States have appointed Protection Officers for implementing the Act, it is important for the Union Government to continue supporting States for implementation of the Act. There are significant variations in the provision of Protection Officers and service providers by different states and appointment of Protection Officers with independent charge, which is not being done in several States.
Additionally, the implementation of most interventions for women in distress, which are led primarily by MWCD has been characterised by inadequate budgetary outlays and the resultant low coverage of these programmes.
Lack of proper planning and needs assessment, slow uptake of the scheme reflected in few proposals received from States, and bottlenecks in implementation such as delay in receipt of Utilisation Certificates combined with the problem of low budgetary outlays, result in low coverage and poor outcomes of programmes.
A requirement of Rs.150 crore and Rs 675 crore for One Stop Centres and Swadhar Greh (a scheme catering to the primary need of shelter, food, clothing, and medical treatment of women in distress) respectively was estimated by the Working Group on Women’s Agency and Empowerment for the 12th Five Year Plan. Against this, the corresponding allocations during the five years from 2012-13 to 2016-17 were just Rs 111 crore and Rs 187 crore respectively. The allocations for Swadhar Greh and One Stop Centres in Union Budget 2017-18 are merely Rs 100 crore and Rs 90 crore respectively. The Scheme for Combating Trafficking and the Women’s Helpline received meagre allocations of Rs 50 crore and Rs 10 crore respectively in Union Budget 2017-18.
The low budgetary outlays also result in low coverage of these programmes. As of July 2015, there were only 311 Swadhar Grehs in the country. Likewise, as of July 2016, there were only 17 One Stop Centres supported by MWCD throughout the country. In 2016-17, it was proposed to extend the coverage of the scheme to 150 additional districts. However, taking into account the revised estimates for the scheme in 2016-17 (Rs. 75 crore), this does not seem have taken place.
The existing set of interventions to respond to women in distress are critical and deficiencies in their implementation should be addressed. However, it must also be recognised that enhancing women’s safety requires a wider range of measures to be instituted by a range of ministries in sectors like urban and rural development, sanitation, transport, police, law, and education among others. The importance accorded to the issue of women’s security in the policy discourse is yet to translate into budgetary priorities. Though it is argued that the onus of instituting and funding these measures lies with states, given the criticality of the issue, the Union Government must continue to supplement the efforts of the States in this domain substantially. It is hoped that forthcoming Union Budgets will reflect a greater commitment towards women’s safety.