The state government lists the establishment of the Prevention of Atrocities against Women (PAW) cell as a key step towards ensuring the safety of women. But even six months after the cell was converted into an independent department, the government is still to appoint a head for the unit with the post currently handled as an additional charge by Special Inspector General (VIP Security) Krishna Prakash.
Established in 1995, the unit suffers from a lack of basic infrastructure, including staff, office space and computers; it also lacks any special training. According to sources, in the past year, the PAW cell of the Maharashtra Police has investigated just one case, in which the Supreme Court expressed dissatisfaction with the probe.
A staff member attached to the cell said in 2016, the responsibility of the cell was handed to Special Inspector General (Cyber Crime) Brijesh Singh. Later, in July 2017, it was passed on to Inspector General (Protection of Civil Rights) Quaiser Khalid. However, in December 2017, while hearing a writ petition regarding a 26-year-old woman missing since 2014, the Bombay High Court ordered that “dedicated teams and cells will have to be set up and the persons in-charge of such cells put under rigorous training. They should be guided by seniors who have successfully investigated such cases in the past and maybe retired police officers can also be brought in together with social workers and persons from the legal field and all of them may also seek the assistance of experts in medical science”.
Following the order, the state government issued a Government Resolution on March 8 this year and created an ‘independent post’ of Special IG (Prevention of Atrocities against Women). But after six months, no one has been appointed to the post.
Currently, the PAW unit has 11 posts, including two Deputy Superintendents of Police. “Only one DySP was appointed and she too is away on UN deputation. Apart from that, two police inspectors have been attached to the department along with two constables and an equal number of clerks in addition to staff,” a staff member said. “We do not have a proper office and work from around the VIP security cell. Since we still do not have computers, we use our personal mobile phones to get official documents or forward them. Due to the absolute lack of infrastructure, even senior officers among us are looking to get out of the department.”
In the only case investigated by the PAW unit in the past year, it faced flak from the Supreme Court this March. The cell had investigated a case in which 68 girls from Rajasthan were rescued from Shahada town in Nandurbar district. After finding out that the PAW unit had only chargesheeted two brothel keepers and not investigated how the girls were pushed into flesh trade, a division bench of Justice J Chelameswar and Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul remarked, “If that is the degree of efficiency of investigation, it is not safe to leave the investigation to the hands of the officers present in court. Having regard to the dimensions of the case and the implications of the social problem, apart from question of law, we deem it appropriate to direct the Director General of Police, Maharashtra, to be present before this court.”
A staff member said if serious investigations are to be conducted across the state, the attitude of the government towards the PAW cell will have to change. “This is the cell that files affidavits before the court in sensitive cases. They should realise the sensitive nature of the cases we investigate and impart proper training to staff members to deal with complex crimes like inter-state human trafficking in addition to providing infrastructure,” said the staff member.
When contacted, Special IG Krishna Prakash said, “While currently there are some teething troubles, we should soon move to our new office at the World Trade Centre. We are hopeful the staff strength and other infrastructure problems will be taken care of.”