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Safety fund still locked

Money is yet to start flowing from the Rs 1,000-crore Nirbhaya Fund, one of the Centre’s first initiatives for women’s safety announced in the bus gang-rape victim’s memory, a year after the incident.

Officials of at least three ministries said they had sent “comprehensive” proposals but the plans had still not been cleared by the P. Chidambaram-headed finance ministry almost 10 months after he announced the corpus while presenting the budget in February.

One of the proposals is for “vulnerability mapping” of crime-prone areas in 94 cities across the country, presented by women and child development (WCD) minister Krishna Tirath, whose department was earlier seen to be locked in a tussle with Chidambaram’s ministry over the fund's control.

The spat appears to have intensified recently. Tirath, sources said, has written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh urging him to intervene and speed up the disbursements from the finance ministry.

In her letter, Tirath is learnt to have said that despite her ministry sending “comprehensive proposals” for security of women in the country, the plans had not been cleared yet.

Her ministry had sent a Rs 487-crore plan in September. Besides vulnerability mapping, it involved setting up local response units in neighbourhoods. The units, comprising members of residents’ welfare associations and the local community, were to respond to victims in distress, officials said.

“The minister (Tirath) is not happy with the attitude of the finance ministry as it is delaying work that should have already started. She also feels that the delay shows the government in poor light and leads to a loss of credibility,” said a senior official of the WCD ministry.

The home, information technology and road transport ministries, waiting for approvals of their plans, are also miffed with the delay, sources said.

The home ministry plan involves an overhaul of the security network in a manner that boosts women’s safety. Ministry officials said they had sought around Rs 300 crore but were asked by the finance ministry to “rework” the plan, apparently because the request funds were too high.

The IT ministry wants around Rs 200 crore for a scheme under which all mobile handsets will have an “SOS button”. This involves helping the manufacturers with free software and police with the technology support to respond to the distress calls in the minimum time.

Under the transport ministry plan, public and commercial vehicles like buses and cabs are to be equipped with facilities such as GPS devices so they can be tracked easily.

Finance ministry officials said that since various ministries had sent their own proposals — with the estimated expenditures running into several hundred crores for each — the clearances were taking time. They said they were having to vet every plan to determine whether the financial demands were justified.

Among the proposals, the focus is on the one sent by Tirath’s ministry. Called “Shubh”, it envisages, among things, sustained campaigns aimed at preventing violence against women. Its other elements include information dissemination about safety services, sensitisation of caregivers; new measures for preventing violence and inculcation of values like respect for women.