New Delhi, Feb. 24: The Narendra Modi government has downsized its first large-scale initiative for women, trimming the plan for a rape crisis centre in every district to one centre per state and Union territory.
Union women and child development minister Maneka Gandhi had suggested 660 Nirbhaya Centres - one each in the 640 districts and another 20 in the six metros. Now, there will be just 36, their locations decided by the individual states and Union territories.
The budget for the project has been slashed from Rs 244.48 crore to Rs 18 crore.
"Our information is that the PMO (Prime Minister's Office) has remarked that the police are sensitive enough and that there is no need for such centres," Jagmati Sangwan of the All India Democratic Women's Association said.
She dubbed the final plan "an impractical solution to a problem of mammoth proportions".
"If a woman is raped in Jaisalmer, say, she will not go to a crisis centre in Jaipur," Sangwan argued.
"This is a strong indicator of how the PMO is detached from reality, and shows this government's tendency for over-centralisation."
The original proposal, mooted last June, envisaged double-storey centres costing Rs 36.98 lakh each. They were to be one-stop centres for assaulted women, easily accessible and offering a "protected shelter, where the victims could be counselled, treated and rehabilitated".
Officials in the PMO had objected to "wasting money" over standalone buildings, suggesting the centres be set up at government hospitals. Ministry officials felt this would make the centres too "public" for the victims.
"As of now, the centres will be built or rented near hospital buildings," a senior ministry official today said.
Under the approved plan, each centre will have nine employees, including a paramedic who will refer the complainants to hospitals, a lawyer, a counsellor, and a retired police officer not below the rank of inspector to help the complainants file FIRs.
The centre will double as a short-stay home for the complainants and, if necessary, refer them to long-term homes.
Pending law ministry approval, it may have a video-conferencing facility with the police and the courts, to be overseen by IT staff. Each centre will also have an integrated helpline.
A “national task force” headed by the ministry secretary will evaluate the functioning of all the centres annually.
The Nirbhaya Centres have been modelled on similar units in Malaysia, Bangladesh, South Africa, Britain, Rwanda, Zambia and Australia, which are run in collaboration between government health departments and NGOs.