The Nirbhaya Fund — set up after the infamous Delhi gang rape that happened in 2012, to ensure women’s safety by setting up helplines, establishing One Stop Centres (OSC), and introducing gender-sensitisation training for officials — have been underutilised, reveals a report published by Oxfam in February 2021.
Furthermore, the ‘Towards Violence Free Lives For Women’ report reveals that the Nirbhaya Fund is ‘underfunded,’ ‘grossly inadequate,’ and is ‘predominantly slotted for services that don’t directly help women.’
That’s not all; the report also highlights that nearly 73 percent of the allocations go to the Home Affairs (Police) ministry, but it is unclear where the funds are being allocated, or if they are being utilised for ensuring the safety of women.
“The money has largely paid for programmes — improving emergency response services, upgrading forensic labs, or expanding units fighting cybercrimes — that don’t exclusively benefit women,” Amita Pitre, Lead Specialist for Gender Justice, Oxfam India, told the media.
Misuse of the Nirbhaya Fund
Statistics suggest that in India, a rape takes place every 15 minutes — all the more reason why it is important to spend adequate funds to combat violence against women. Oxfam analysed India’s budget in the last three years, and the results were shocking yet again.
In 2019, a parliamentary panel standing committee had expressed strong criticism against the Nirbhaya Funds being used for construction work.
Ever since the fund was first institutionalised in 2013, several proposals have been accepted to allocate funds to construct One Stop Centres by women and child development ministry, install CCTV cameras at railway stations by the railway ministry, and to create ‘safe cities’ by Ministry of Information Technology, Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, Ministry of Railways, and Ministry of Home Affairs.
Ranjana Kumari, a renowned academician and social activist, who has been closely following the use of funds, was shocked to hear of its use for ‘construction purposes.’
“In a meeting with the former WCD Minister Maneka Gandhi, she told us that there is nothing like Nirbhaya Fund. There are these allocations which are with the finance ministry, and every ministry has been asked to send proposals to access that fund. Since our ministry has not been able to send a proposal, we haven’t got any allocation,” said Kumari.
India has only been spending Rs 30 per woman or girl annually to fight gender-based violence. On the other hand, those who are undergoing sexual violence have an allocation of only Rs 102 per woman or girl.
Asha Devi, Nirbhaya’s mother, also expressed her disappointment and blamed the government for not using the funds appropriately.
“I have not seen the proper utilisation of the fund. Using the Nirbhaya Fund for constructing buildings is wrong. It does not matter that the fund was called Nirbhaya Fund, but it was institutionalised for the safety and security of women and prevention of rape. But even years later, the government has not made use of it appropriately,” she told the media.
What is the state of the Nirbhaya Fund?
According to the Oxfam report, the fund has received several additions every year, yet it remains underfunded or inadequately utilised. The annual budgetary requirement is Rs 10,000 crore to Rs 11,000 crore for schemes that can help women directly. However, the recent 2021-2022 budget announced by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman does not even earmark 25 percent of what is required.
The report says, “The Ministry of Finance had provided an amount of Rs 4357.62 crore under the Nirbhaya Fund by 2019-20, but the reality is that the funds remained unused because of lack of clarity.”
Amrita added that the money that was specifically earmarked for strengthening forensic laboratories and other efforts to help women was not “exclusively used for women.”
In 2018, almost 34,000 rape cases were reported, quite similar to the previous year. About 85 percent had led to charges, while 27 percent were convicted, reveals government data. Although India has close to 600 One Stop Centres to help women, much more needs to be done, feel women’s rights advocates.
The report highlights that the WCD ministry has only used 20 percent 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.”
The Nirbhaya Fund was announced by India’s former Finance Minister P Chidambaram eight years ago after a 23-year-old physiotherapy student was brutally gang-raped by six men on a moving bus in the national capital.
During the 2013-14 budget, Rs 1,000 crore was allocated to the fund to help with women empowerment, and ensure safety and security for both women and girl children.
Looking into the future
Cases of domestic violence and abuse have only increased in the country, especially in the wake of the lockdown that was imposed to contain COVID-19 in 2020. Unfortunately, the recent gender budget is only a mere 6.8 percent higher, as compared to last year — from Rs 1,43,461.72 crore in 2020-21 to Rs 1,53,326 crore in 2021-22.
However, the budget allocated women-specific schemes has witnessed a decline of 13 percent — from Rs 28,568.32 crore to Rs 25,260.95 crore.
Gender rights activists believe more needs to be done for women’s social protection, and to address the violence they go through.
(Edited by Suman Singh)