In a much delayed move, the state government will next month set the ball rolling for the appointment of protection officers in all 358 talukas of the state to deal with cases registered under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005.
On Thursday, the finance department sanctioned Rs 12.69 crore until March this year to start off the process. The decision comes in the wake of a rap from the Bombay High Court for the state’s failure to implement the Act in its entirety. The court is hearing a public interest litigation in connection with the matter and has fixed the next hearing for February 23.
“The new posts have been sanctioned by a high-powered committee headed by the chief secretary. Of the 358 talukas, we will have to set aside appointments in 45 talukas until the issue of Maratha and Muslim reservations is resolved,” said an official from the women and child development (WCD) department. As many as 171 officials will take charge in February while the department will issue orders for appointing another 142 officials next week.
Until now, the child development project officer in every taluka was handling the additional charge of dealing with domestic violence cases. The lack of a dedicated officer, the first point of contact for victims, has led to a gross under-reporting of cases of domestic violence. According to figures available with the WCD department, merely 16,535 complaints were registered under the Act between 2009 and 2012. While 60 talukas have not registered a single complaint during this period, another 173 talukas have had less than 10 cases.
Former additional solicitor general of India Indira Jaising, who was instrumental in pushing the domestic violence Bill in Parliament, said a protection officer accessible on a full-time basis could form a crucial interface between a woman and the court and the police. “They help in preparing the legal case and piecing together the evidence… Appointing protection officers establishes the state’s obligation to assist women who are subjected to domestic violence,” said Jaising. It fixes responsibility as such officers are punishable under the Act in case they fail to discharge their duties as directed by the magistrate.
Under the Act, such officers have to provide women with a list of social organisations that offer legal aid or counselling, direct them to nearby shelter homes if necessary, help in getting medical examination done in case of injuries and forward the report to the police and magistrate. They are also responsible for aiding women in case they are eligible for monetary relief or help them with matters relating to child’s custody. Last year, the state had announced that it would extend monetary aid under its Manodhairya scheme, meant for victims of rape and acid attacks, to include those who suffer burns due to domestic violence.