Govt sets up safety panel, sits on its tips

Thursday, 10 January 2013 - 3:00am IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: DNA
Dharmadhikari proposals gathering dust since December 2010.

Wonder how seriously people should take the voices from within the state government on the issue of attacks on women. It has been over two years since an uproar on the floor of the state assembly on rising attacks against women saw home minister RR Patil announce the formation of a committee headed by justice Chandrashekhar Dharmadhikari.

Despite the committee submitting two interim reports to the government, on the ground, very little has been done to actually implement its recommendations. The committee submitted the reports in December 2010 and September 2011. They extensively dealt with suggestions of amendments to the Indian Penal Code sections 354 (assault on a woman to outrage modesty), 506 (criminal intimidation) and 509 (words, gesture or act intended to insult a woman’s modesty) in accordance with its terms of reference.

“The panel’s suggestions of human resource allocations haven’t found favour with the government. In the other instances all that the government felt necessary to do was issue circulars and letters,” said panelist Dr Vijay Raghavan of the Centre for Criminology and Justice at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences. He cites the instance of the committee suggesting placement of professionally-trained social workers with every police station and prison. “Aware this could come in the way of the police’s style of functioning, it was rejected. The justification is, of course, couched in bureaucratese in a manner suggesting this can be taken care of by women from the community on the vigilance committee itself. How does the government expect untrained people to handle specialised intervention in sensitive cases is unclear,” he added.

The committee is meeting at Mantralaya next week to discuss exactly this. “The panel will seek information from the government on what is the nature of the steps it has taken in implementing the recommendations. The panel will clearly be looking for more than paperwork.”
Recent data released by the state shows that the conviction rate in rape cases has been a mere 19.1%, way below the national average of 26.9%.

Interestingly, Bombay high court chief justice Mohit Shah too is already seized of the matter and has brought both interim reports of the Dharmadhikari committee and the recommendations on record as a part of two PILs. One is a suo motu PIL which the court is hearing after the rise in attacks on women commuters on trains in 2010 led to outrage. The other has been filed by Help Mumbai Foundation on the safety of women in the city.

Shah had asked the government why it waited for a PIL to be filed while directing it to submit a detailed affidavit on the steps it has taken. “The amendments should have been made earlier. At present, they are bailable offences,” he had said. Attempts to get RR Patil to comment on the issue drew a blank after DNA was asked to spell out the questions. All eyes will now be on what happens at the panel meeting next week and the hearing of the PIL on January 17.


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