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Hassle-free plan to combat sex crimes

New Delhi, Feb. 4: The Centre has drawn up a plan to combat sexual crimes against women, focusing on rapid communication, hassle-free reporting as well as registration of complaints and gender sensitisation of police.

The “time-bound action plan” is expected to be implemented directly under the supervision of the Prime Minister’s Office.

The government will put in place a one-point contact for any person in distress of any kind with a countrywide three-digit phone number to respond to all emergency situations. The helpline will be modelled on the lines of the 911 or 990 Emergency Management Systems in developed countries and will be available to subscribers of all telecom service providers.

Once a call is made to this number, the caller is expected to be seamlessly transferred from the single-point contact to the appropriate distress line.

A concept note detailing how the system will be established and run will be readied by the Union home ministry in co-ordination with the telecom ministry by the end of this month, cabinet secretary Ajit Kumar Seth has directed.

According to the plan, the 181 helpline for women in Delhi will become a national number. The plan lists several other measures, including protection for citizens to enable them to freely report a crime and assist the victim or police without being subjected to interrogation or being forced to become witnesses.

The plan was finalised last week by Seth after at least three meetings with secretaries of seven ministries. The ministries of home, road transport and highways, telecom, women and child development, information and broadcasting, human resource development and health and family welfare will oversee the progress of the action plan.

“Secretaries of seven key ministries have been directed to personally monitor the implementation of these measures and report every month to the cabinet secretary and the Prime Minister’s Office,” an official statement said.

Protests in the wake of the gang rape and subsequent death of a 23-year-old student in Delhi had jolted the government into action, sources said. “When the cabinet secretariat (and the PMO) are monitoring it, it shows how much of importance is being devoted to the matter,” said a senior official.

Although home is the nodal ministry on law and order or security, Union home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde, who had made a controversial remark during the protests, was kept out of the loop, sources said.

The plan incorporates some ideas and recommendations that were part of the Justice J.S. Verma committee’s report that was made public last month.

The administrative steps are in addition to the promulgation of the Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance, 2013, by President Pranab Mukherjee on Sunday that effects changes in laws, including the Indian Evidence Act.

While the ordinance outlines the post-crime measures, the plan details preventive steps.

Asked about complaints of police attitude while dealing with women, Union finance minister P. Chidambaram said the plan would lay stress on sensitisation of the force. “We are concerned about the attitude of certain police officers and we hope to correct the attitude of such officers,” Chidambaram, who chairs the group of ministers on media, told reporters today.

Delhi police commissioner Neeraj Kumar had drawn flak over the handling of protests in Delhi against the gang rape.

The plan to remove gender bias among policemen prescribes both educational and punitive action. It seeks to ensure that a first information report (FIR) is filed by the police irrespective of the jurisdiction or time of crime.

At the time of inspection of police stations, it will be mandatory for the inspecting officer to specifically record findings regarding the gender-sensitivity of the personnel posted there.

The inspecting officer will be required to examine the record of the police station and station house officer in registering and investigating complaints of crimes against women. The officer will also be expected to verify whether women are being discouraged from lodging complaints in police station.

Senior officers will be required to cite specific instances of police personnel’s gender sensitivity in the annual performance appraisal report. “This will not be in a ritualistic ‘yes’ or ‘no’,” according to the plan.

The framework lays down strict disciplinary action against officers found guilty of gender bias.

The information and broadcasting ministry is set to play a big role in monitoring negative, stereotyped or indecent portrayal of women in movies, television shows and advertisements.

This has been “a matter of concern for long and all stakeholders should be continuously engaged in this regard”, the plan says.

The human resource development ministry will be involved in training teachers on gender-sensitivity in schools. The ministry has also been asked to encourage martial arts training for girls in educational institutions.

Taking a cue from the Verma panel’s recommendations, the government wants to include gender modules in curricula at all levels in schools and colleges.