New Delhi: The Nirbhaya Fund, announced eight years ago to reduce violence against women, goes “underused” and underfunded, and is “predominantly slotted for services that don’t directly help the women”, a new report by NGO Oxfam India said.
Former finance minister P. Chidambaram had announced the fund in the aftermath of the 2012 gang rape case in the national capital, in his 2013-14 budget. He had then allocated Rs 1,000 crore to the fund, meant for women empowerment, and safety and security for women and girl children.
Over the years, several reports have suggested that a majority of state government departments don’t use the Nirbhaya fund for its designated purpose.
The new Oxfam report, published in February 2021, highlighted that since inception in 2013, the dedicated non-lapsable corpus fund has received several annual additions, but it remains underfunded and underutilised.
The annual budgetary requirement stands at Rs 10,000 to 11,000 crore, directed only towards schemes that help women directly, the report said. However, in Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s latest 2021-22 budget, allocations are not even 25 per cent of what is required if the aim is to reach 60 per cent of survivors, it noted.
Schemes that directly help women — such as 181-women helpline, One Stop Centre (popularly known as Sakhi Centres), Swadhar Greh (Shelter Homes), and Fast Track Special Courts — “formed less than 0.07% of the total union budget allocations in 2020-21”.
It added that “the Ministry of Finance had provided an amount of INR 4357.62 crores under the Nirbhaya Fund” by 2019-20, but the fund remained unused for two years owing to lack of clarity in mechanism.
By July 2019, 33 proposals worth Rs 5,670 crore had been approved — 40 per cent of this amount (Rs 2,250 crore) was released and only 61 per cent of that amount (Rs 1,377 crore) was utilised.
“The fund allocations accounted for 62%, 75% and 92% of the total women-specific allocations (BE) on Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) in the Union Budget of 2018-19, 2019-20 and 2020, respectively,” the report said.
According to the report, nearly 73 per cent of the allocations go to the Home Affairs (Police), where it continues to remain unclear as to where the funds are being allocated and how much of it is actually spent on women specific subjects.
“The money has largely paid for programmes — improving emergency response services, upgrading forensic labs or expanding units fighting cyber crimes — that don’t exclusively benefit women,” Amita Pitre of Oxfam India told the BBC.
The Women and Child Development ministry has used just 20 per cent of the money it received till 2019 for “crisis centres for rape or domestic violence survivors, shelters for women, female police volunteers and a women’s helpline”.
With funds being used for better lighting, CCTV cameras and grants to research the feasibility and efficacy of panic buttons in vehicles, Pitre underlined, “People want technology-based answers, but that won’t help in 80% of cases where the accused are people known to women”.
Over half of the total allocations are shared among just five states — Delhi, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh.
Data also showed that West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Kerala, Karnataka, Delhi and Andhra Pradesh have used less than 25 per cent of the funds allocated to them.
In terms of the schemes for which money is released and utilised, Safe City projects top the list, followed by One Stop Centre and Fast Track Courts, said the Oxfam report.
However, funds for the last two are extremely low compared to what is required. Moreover, experts believe setting up centres and teams is easy, sustaining them is the hard part.