A day after the Union Minister of Women and Child Development Maneka Gandhi sent a note to the Cabinet Secretariat for empowering the National Commission of Women (NCW), the law ministry has shown a red flag to the proposal saying that it will open a pandora’s box.
The note was supposed to be discussed and put for the approval of the Cabinet scheduled to meet next Wednesday. Without a nod from the law ministry, which is crucial to pass the amendment, the Act is most likely to be in limbo.
Sources in the government said that the WCD has incorporated a host of amendments to the NCW Act (1990), which put the NCW on par with institutions like the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). As per the proposed amendments, the NCW would have been given the rights of a civil court with the power to conduct judicial proceedings. It would have the power to summon, with defaulters being payable a maximum of Rs 5000 for not appearing, issue warrants, call for documents.
The law ministry has opposed the amendments on the grounds that the NCW is not qualified enough to function under the proposed changes. The ministry also expressed its concerns on the extra powers that the amendments will give the NCW, saying that it will be free of any scrutiny from the government. It further said that it will open a pandora’s box and other bodies will also ask for the same status.
The members of the NCW have been considered a political postings, with governments choosing members without a proven background in tackling women’s issues.
One of the proposed amendment - to have a retired judge head the Commission - has met with opposition from activists and former members, who say that the proposed changes have been forwarded by the ministry without any discussion or debate with lawyers and activists.
Activist Ranjana Kumari, of the Centre for Social Research, who was part of the drafting committee of the NCW Act in 1990, says that some of these changes need to be discussed. “There needs to proper consultation with women’s activists and lawyers, with a fair amount of committed research to back it. It is encouraging that the minister wants to bring in changes, but these changes need to be scrutinised,” she said.
Jagmati Sangwan of the AIDWA said that they were strongly critical of the proposed changes. “There needs to be more transparency and a more informed debate to decide where the NCW is headed,” she said.