FIVE YEARS after the government decided to set up a welfare board for transgenders and almost a year after it actually came into being, the state-level body is yet to hold its first meeting, data accessed by The Indian Express under the Right to Information (RTI) Act has revealed.
Maharashtra at least has 2,634 transgenders according to the electoral rolls, but the actual count may be much higher. According to the 2011 Census, India has 4.8 lakh transgenders.
RTI documents show that in September 2014, the government had decided to shift welfare schemes related to transgenders from the women and child development (WCD) department to the social justice and special assistance department.
It also decided to form a welfare board for the community. However, it was only in October 2017 that the WCD department allocated Rs 5 crore to the social justice department for the purpose. While in December 2018, the social justice department finally set up the board, it is yet to appoint any of its 35 members.
The board is mandated to register transgenders, frame welfare schemes, provide social security, protect human rights, spread awareness on existing government schemes and integrate them socially with members of other communities.
The 35-member board must have one official each from other departments, the minister and secretary of social justice department as well as directors of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar Sansodhan and Prashikshan Sansthan (Pune), Maharashtra AIDS Control Society and Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar Samta Pratishthan (Nagpur) among others.
With the welfare board on paper, the transgender community claimed that its demands remain pending.
“The board is supposed to look after our welfare and upliftment. For the first time, our representatives would be able to present our issues and bring out policies. But that is not happening,” said Sonali Chaukekar, a transgender.
Priya Patil from NGO Kinnar Maa Trust added: “The board is supposed to provide livelihood to transgenders, push for our reservation. It is tasked with identifying transgenders and registering them. That cannot happen unless the members meet.”
Salma Khan, the first transgender to become a Mumbai District Suburban Legal Services Authority member, said addiction to drugs and alcohol is a grave problem faced by the community and the government needs to set up de-addiction centres exclusively for them. “We also need a push in the education sector. While we have been recognised as the third gender, there is little translation of that term on ground. A transgender continues to be ostracised.”
Varsha Vidya Vilas, whose NGO works with the social justice department on de-addiction, said the department is also yet to appoint members for district-level committees under the welfare board. “The process is full of bureaucratic delays,” she said.
When contacted, Sanjay Patil, Deputy Secretary (Social Justice and Special Assistance), said the government resolution on transferring welfare schemes of transgenders to his department was delayed, leading to a further delay in setting up the welfare board.
While in 2015, the Supreme Court had identified the community as the third gender, the Transgender Person (Protection of rights) Bill, 2016 is expected to be passed in the Winter Session of Parliament.