State govts must step up to prioritise Domestic Violence Act

The intention was to make justice more accessible to women who may not always want criminal proceedings but yet sought intervention while keeping the possibility of reconciliation open.

Written by Nisha Agrawal | New Delhi | Updated: October 26, 2016 12:22 pm
domestic violence, domestic violence act, domestic violence act supreme court, domestic violence act SC, Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, PWDVA, PWDVA supreme court, indian express, indian express blogs, india news Members and supporters of All India Mahila Samskritik Sanghatan (AIMSS) protesting against crime against women on Women’s Day in Kolkata. (Express photo by Partha Paul)

A decade is a fairly long time to assess the implementation of any law. This 26th October is the tenth year of the implementation of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act (PWDVA) 2005. So where do we stand? No doubt that this is a fairly progressive law enacted after a two-decade struggle by the women’s movement to establish a growing understanding of domestic violence as more than dowry deaths, as was the trend during those times.

The intention was to make justice more accessible to women who may not always want criminal proceedings but yet sought intervention while keeping the possibility of reconciliation open. The Act has widened the definition of domestic violence to include economic and emotional abuse, extended its applicability beyond married women, and, also made provisions for immediate relief, particularly of shelter and protection as required by an aggrieved woman. Yet, its main flaws lie in its implementation.

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A law with a dedicated budget towards its implementation should ideally be the starting point. During the 12th Five Year Plan, a costing by the women’s rights organisations worked the costing of the law’s implementation to the village level at Rs 1158 crores in a financial year. In 2013- 14, a new scheme with an allocation of Rs 67.5 crores was proposed but it was never approved. The revised estimates for that year for PWDVA implementation was zero. In 2014-15, the budgetary allocation was Rs. 50 crores and the revised estimate was zero. This indicates a complete underutilization of the fund, i.e., not a rupee was spent by the central government on the implementation of the PWDVA. In 2015-16, there has been no allocation, as with the greater devolution to the states, it is felt that state governments would allocate appropriately. It is still too early to know whether this is genuinely the case. Some states have initiated a separate plan for the implementation of PWDVA, others have made ad hoc allocations. The rest have not allocated any funds for the implementation of the PWDVA and meet the expenses from already existing resources under other women related welfare schemes.

With appropriate budgets backing the law, the required infrastructure would also fall into place. For example, in 20 states and 6 Union Territories, the Protection Officer, the first interface for a survivor of domestic violence, continues to be on an additional charge for other government functionaries, like the District Social Welfare Officer or Child Development Project Officer. And we all know, additional charge will have lesser priority. Moreover, the appointment of this cadre of officers has often been done on a contractual basis, with only the state of Kerala having appointed them on government payroll with full benefits.

Safe spaces for women facing domestic violence to stay in are also very disparate. Some states like Karnataka with 124, Tamil Nadu with 98 and Odisha with 87 are on the higher side, while others like Himachal Pradesh has notified one shelter home, Haryana three and Uttar Pradesh only 10 shelter homes. Of the 36 One Stop Crisis Centres allocated in the first phase, only 15 have become operational till May 2016. Another 150 are allocated in the second phase. Often these One Stop Crisis Centre is still far for the women from the villages with limited mobility and financial resources at her disposal.

There are also reasons for judicial delays. On filing a case of domestic violence, the Act stipulates that the first hearing of a case must be conducted within three days of filing of the DIR, and a final order be pronounced within 60 days of the first hearing. On an average, passing of orders by the court have taken more than 200 days. With a strong emphasis on reconciliation within most duty bearers, there are many biases in the duty bearers’ approach to cases of domestic violence. Apart from Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra, no other states have been able to establish a convergent model on this implementation, a much needed area of action.

What does this mean for the future? State governments must step up to prioritise the implementation of PWDVA. They must ensure that there is adequate allocation and utilisation of budgets, appropriate infrastructure and dedicated personnel to take up cases, establish convergence between different support services and therefore departments. It is equally important to develop monitoring and evaluation procedures that ensure that the law works for the end person – the survivor of domestic violence!

The author is CEO, Oxfam India. Views expressed are personal.