Key Maneka plans run into Modi hurdle

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  • Published 2.12.14

New Delhi, Dec. 1: Differences with the Prime Minister’s Office appear to have held up key schemes of the women and child development (WCD) ministry announced in the budget five months ago.

Among the measures stalled is the “one-stop rape crisis centres”, christened Nirbhaya centres after the 2012 Delhi bus rape victim and seen as a pet project of Maneka Gandhi.

The finance ministry had approved Rs 500 crore for the plan but, with the draft cabinet note from the ministry on the proposal pending with the PMO for the past two months, rumours are swirling that the ambitious scheme could be dropped.

A senior ministry official denied the possibility, though. “The project has not been scrapped. We are still in discussions with the PMO. Every proposal has stages of discussion and we have had some differences of opinion.”

Maneka had written to all MPs to ensure land was allocated for the centres. In August, she had voiced displeasure in the House at those who hadn’t made the effort.

Sources involved in the discussions said while the ministry was adamant on the centres as “stand-alone” units, the PMO wanted them housed in government hospitals, citing international examples from the US, South Africa and some nations in Europe.

The ministry official explained his department’s stand. “There is a difference between a rape victim in India and the US. In India, there is a certain level of ostracisation of the victim and she doesn’t want to be seen in public glare. A public hospital is not a place where she will feel comfortable.”

The ministry believes the centres should be “in an isolated building where the victim can feel comfortable”, the official said. But he did not rule out “a financial angle” in the PMO’s insistence on hospitals as units in “pre-existing structures would entail less expenditure”.

Other ministry officials said there was no point delaying the project over this. The ministry has, in any case, left it to state governments to decide the location of the centres, only recommending that they be built as “separate” units.

While this scheme hangs fire, the beti bachao, beti padhao (save the girl child, educate the girl child) scheme — touted as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pet project that is to be implemented by the WCD ministry — is stuck in his office over the choice of logo and the need for more public feedback.

Modi had formally announced the scheme in his Independence Day speech, a month after the government’s first budget earmarked Rs 100 crore for it.

As a result of the delay, funds have not started flowing to states under the scheme yet. The ministry is supposed to spend 20 per cent of the outlay on ads and disburse the rest to states.

“Since the scheme was recently approved, the states haven’t been allocated any money,” Maneka had said in reply to a query in Parliament last week.

Another scheme close to the minister’s heart, a bank exclusively for women, and its merger with the UPA-proposed Bharatiya Mahila Bank also awaits the PMO’s approval.