The Delhi Commission for Women (DCW) has claimed that the future of its Rape Crisis Cell (RCC) is uncertain, with 22 lawyers working for the cell unpaid for two months. Days after the DCW sparred with its member secretary over alleged non-payment of fees to contractual staff, the commission has told The Indian Express that if lawyers remain unpaid, it may affect rape cases pending before various courts in Delhi.
DCW member in-charge of the RCC Farheen Malick said the cell was formed pursuant to orders of the Delhi High Court in 2008. But after the AAP government reconstituted the commission with new members in 2015, the strength of the RCC’s lawyers was increased from six to 22.
“We increased the number of RCC lawyers from six to 22 and that is why we have been effective. We updated all our programmes. The RCC’s lawyers help rape victims every step of the way after the filing of FIR. Since January, we have been able to get compensation for 100 victims. Our lawyers help with cancellation of bail applications against rape accused. If they are not paid, how will we sustain our efforts?” said Malick.
She said the RCC’s lawyers are handling 3,429 cases of rape pending before 22 courts in Delhi. Of these, she said, 690 were cases of minor victims of rape, filed under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act. She added that every lawyer handles about 300 cases. Malick said they have spoken to the member secretary of the commission asking her to approve the disbursal of salaries to these lawyers, but she was yet to act on it. Malick said the lawyers are paid Rs 25,000-Rs 35,000 a month.
Babli Kala, a lawyer working with the RCC since March, said that most lawyers engaged by the cell prioritise its work. “Some of us work on other matters as well but for many, the work they do with the RCC is their only source of livelihood. It will be difficult for us to live in a city like Delhi without getting salaries. But we are sure the authorities will tell us if this problem is likely to persist,” said Kala.
She added that on an average, RCC’s lawyers assigned to different courts handle seven to eight cases daily. “Most victims come from the lower socio-economic strata. They can’t afford lawyers. They don’t know they are entitled to interim compensation. When the accused is a family member, victims don’t get support from their families. After we talk to them, they get confidence and give proper statements before court,” said Kala.
Asked why RCC’s lawyers had not been paid for two months, DCW member secretary Alka Diwan said, “That is not the case. The issue is under examination and the chairperson is aware of it. They (lawyers) were hired from an NGO after issuing tenders. We have to examine the tender conditions.”