New Delhi, Aug. 30: Women have to wait longer for a national helpline to call in times of distress as central ministries can’t make up their minds on the most convenient number.
The home ministry has ordered a halt to the process of finalising one, with sources indicating it was keen on the US-style emergency number: 911.
The directive came as the women and child development (WCD) ministry was in the process of setting up a three-digit number that would have worked across the country.
But home ministry joint secretary Suresh Kumar recently wrote to the to WCD secretary Nita Choudhury Kumar saying the plan should be put on hold.
The home ministry, Kumar said, is trying to working out a single three-digit code for all emergencies. An example is 911 in the US. Mandated by the Federal Communications Commission, it allows security agencies to trace a caller’s location and rush assistance.
In India, different numbers are used for different emergencies, with callers often tossed around departments.
For instance, 100 has been assigned for calling police while fire and medical emergencies have other numbers. In addition, states governments have their own emergency numbers.
Mumbai’s Aparna Singh believes it will be great if there is a single number across the country.
“Look at the ridiculous situation in India. Women have become increasingly mobile. When we travel, we have to remember the toll-free numbers of each place we go to? Also, with such a large number of migrants moving from one place to another, it helps if they have to remember one number,” said the 33-year-old advertisement executive who works with migrant workers.
At present, women have to dial 103 in Mumbai, 1091 in Haryana and 181 in Delhi besides several more in other states.
After the Delhi gang rape last December, the telecommunications ministry picked 181 but the helpline is yet to go national and only Delhi has adopted it.
Now fears have grown that ministerial wrangles could delay the process further.
Kumar, the home ministry joint secretary, has said in his letter that any decision on a national helpline would be taken only after inter-ministerial consultations, indicating that the WCD ministry cannot take a unilateral step.
The last such meeting took place on August 16. Kumar’s letter doesn’t mention when the Centre plans to complete the process and announce such a number.
But many doubt if the system will work at all when they need it most.
Women’s rights activist Alok Dixit is one of those who don’t expect much.
“Most helplines do not work. In any case I don’t expect much from the three-digit numbers. When a woman is being molested, or when she is scared about something, she cannot go on calling a number where there is no response. A single number or different numbers, the government should ensure that they are operational at the least.”