At this government-run protection home for women,hardly any protection is visible for its 226-odd inmates but state apathy is quite evident,and it begins right at the gates. There are no guards at the Navjeevan Mahila Vastigruh in Chembur,near the Deonar bus depot,and the staff crunch is so severe that most of its annual salary budget remains unused.
The protection home has been running since 1960 on rented premises and after irregularities were noticed,the Bombay High Court had passed an order in 1996 to take measures to improve conditions. The state government setting up the home in March this year on three acres of land was one of the steps. Women from vulnerable sections are brought here. Many of them are rescued from sex-trade rackets.
The 226 women have only eight staff to look after them. These women are vulnerable. They come here after being rescued from inhuman conditions and there is a threat to their lives. The most pressing concern should be security. However,no such provision has been made, Tushar Latne,superintendent,Navjeevan Mahila Vastigruh told The Indian Express.
In the two months since he took charge,Latne has written at least 15 letters to senior government officials including the Commissioner of Police seeking their intervention for urgent security of the premises.
Nisar Tamboli,DCP (Zone 2) and the official spokesperson for Mumbai Police,however,said provisions have been made as per state sanctions.
Unless the state government asks us to make such security arrangements,we will not be able to provide any cover at the home, he said.
In 2004,within seven months,141 inmates had escaped from Navjeevan Mahila Vastigruh. The then superintendent had conveyed to the Bombay HC his inability to prevent such escapes owing to lack of security.
As per state government records,the home,which also runs a care centre for children below six,should employ as many as 22 personnel,including doctors and caretakers. For the past three years,Latne claims it has been neglected and only eight employees struggle to keep even normal work going.
On an average,one probation officer (PO) can deal with not more than 20-25 women inmates on a daily basis. The PO is expected to attend to their issues and prepare a comprehensive report on them. But at this centre,which houses over 200 of them,I am the only probation officer, said Neeru Sharma,a probation officer,working at this centre for over four years and on womens rights issues for nearly two decades.
Even a normal visit of any inmate to the hospital is a hassle. We have no vehicle to take inmates to hospitals. The only junior caretaker has to call an auto-rickshaw. It is not only strenuous but risky venturing out without an escort, said Sharma.
In the latest survey by officials,as many as five per cent of the inmates tested HIV positive.
These concerns had been raised by the Justice Chandrashekhar Dharamdhikari Committee set up by the state government to study the issue of violence on women.The report compiled over two years details all these issues.
The recommendations of the committee have been accepted by the state government, says Dr Vijay Raghavan of the Centre for Criminology and Justice School of Social Work,Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS).
Raghavan,who was part of the committee,says that the state issued a government resolution (GR) asking for arrangements to be made for every shortcoming listed in the report.
The GR,on the face of it covers all aspects. However,the state has shifted all responsibilities on the superintendent,who is expected to make all arrangements, Raghavan says.
Latne says although the home has a low budget of about Rs 40 lakh per year,additional staff are needed even to spend this money.
The state has many other concerns,from terror to VIP security. Women issues take a beating in all this, Raghavan says.