Months before the Nithari killings woke up the state government, the National Commission for Women (NCW) sent it a series of alerts. But the government chose to ignore them — after all, the NCW was just another toothless statutory commission.
Chairpersons of the National Commission for Women (NCW), National Commission for Minorities (NCM) and National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC) told HT their notices to the state machinery often go unanswered. Most of these commissions, which were set up by the government to look into issues concerning vulnerable sections of society, are toothless. None of them have the kind of powers that were intended in the legislations under which they were set up.
“It is a problem. The replies, if at all they come, are not straightforward. We have to send at least two letters to any state or police official to get a response. Very often, we have to summon people as they do not respond to our letters and phone calls,” NCW chairperson Girija Vyas said.
But had the NCW got responses to all the notices it sent out, it would have been in no position to deal with them. The commission faces a severe manpower crunch and functions with half its sanctioned staff of 52. Its request for an additional 58 posts is pending. The NCW could not take action in about 3,000 of the 13,000 complaints it received last year and responses from state governments and police are pending in at least 3,000 of the 10,000 cases it took up. This year, it has already received 700 complaints. Which means that in the third week of January, the NCW is looking at 6,700 cases to be dealt with by 24 personnel, including the members and chairperson.
The NCSC isn’t any better off. Members are so upset that at its last meeting, they passed a unanimous resolution seeking more powers, said chairperson Fakir Bhai Vaghela. “The commission is not advisory. We should have the power to enforce our directives,” he said.
NCM chairman Hamid Ansari said the complaints they got were usually against government agencies and these agencies made use of “procedural devices” to delay their responses. “Members can meet people, hold public meetings and assess situations but to investigate, we need professionals. You need teeth if you have to deliver.”