The Nirbhaya Fund: Allocation of funds alone will not solve the problem
It is time for us to recognize that not by law alone can justice be delivered expeditiously. Governments have to learn to put their money where their mouth is and fund the administration of justice better, by appointing more judges, providing competent public prosecutors, set up one-stop crisis centres and provide witness protection to women facing sexual abuse.Updated: Jul 29, 2017 19:45 IST
Laws relating to social justice often express the pious hope, in the form of non-mandatory timelines for completion of trails. For example, the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, lays down a timeline of three months for the completion of the case. Any lawyer will tell you that it is difficult to see conclusion in three years leave alone three months. These delays are sometimes beyond the control of the courts, but sometimes courts consciously delay these matters, giving them low priority as “family matters”. Hence, delays in court are a function of the ideology of the judge and also the availability of time and infrastructure.
Sometimes the language of the statute uses the expression “as far as possible”, in recognition of the fact that a statute cannot really lay down a timeline but only a guideline.
In the case of a trial for rape, Section 309 states that the trial shall be conducted “as far as possible” within 2 months of the filing of the charge sheet. When the legislature passes a law of this kind, it is difficult to understand the purpose behind such a direction to the Court, as we all know that the supply of judicial time falls far short of the demands for time. How does one resolve this conflict? On the one hand, it is difficult to lay down a mandatory timeline given the number to players involved with any given case. On the other hand, there are complaints that judges are very liberal with adjournments, and often they remain absent without the case being assigned to some other judge.
In the case of rape, for example, medical evidence (where it is collected) is critical to the outcome of the case. Yet the results of any medical examination can be provided only by a forensic laboratory. It is a notorious fact that this country lacks adequate numbers of forensic labs to provide the results for timely disposal of a case. This results in adjournments without number, making it impossible to deliver judgment within two months of filing the charge sheet. The law will then end up being only a “pious hope” that the case will be decided expeditiously.
In such a case, the obvious solution lies in increasing the number of forensic labs. However, since that is not likely to happen overnight, forensic experts have suggested that every hospital should have a forensic expert attached to it; and if that is done, in the case of rape the expert can give his or her opinion simultaneously with the taking of the sample. These are simple solutions which can be implemented forthwith, but we see no movement on the suggestion. It is time for us to recognize that not by law alone can justice be delivered expeditiously. Governments have to learn to put their money where their mouth is and fund the administration of justice better, by appointing more judges, providing competent public prosecutors, set up one-stop crisis centres and provide witness protection to women facing sexual abuse.
In the aftermath of the 2012 Delhi gang rape, the then Union government announced the Nirbhaya fund in its Union budget 2013 with an initial corpus of Rs 100 crore for implementation of initiatives aimed at enhancing the security and safety for women in the country. It is non-lapsable corpus fund. There have been subsequent budgetary allocations to the fund as follows: in 2014-15, it was 1000 crore, in 2016-17, it was 550 crore, and in 2-17-18, it was another 550 crore.
These funds are maintained by the Ministry of Finance, Department of Economic Affairs (DEA). The schemes are implemented/administered by the respective ministries. The Ministry of Finance, DEA issues guidelines from time to time for the administration and operationalisation of the fund. As per guidelines issued on 25.03.2015, the Ministry of Women and Child Development is the nodal Ministry to appraise and recommend the proposed schemes only under Nirbhaya Fund, it also reviews and monitors the progress of sanctioned schemes in conjunction with the line ministries/departments. The total expected expenditure as of 31st March 2017 would be to the tune of Rs. 332.76 Crores.
The unspent amounts are huge. No amount has been spent on the administration of justice. One-stop crisis centres have not been set up in every hospital and in every court in the country as they should be. As I said in the Supreme Court while arguing an amicus brief on laws relating to sexual abuse, money is never a problem in this country, what is a problem is where you put it!
There is, however, one contributory factor to delay which the courts can take care of and that is repeated adjournments requested by lawyers. There is no reason why these should be granted, except when the lawyers themselves are busy in other courts. Lawyers have come to see adjournments as a right, excuses range from the believable to the unbelievable, such as the sudden demise of a “cousin” where everyone is a cousin, to marriage in the family. Passing a law to conclude a trial in two months is not the only solution to the problem, the issue requires more sensitive handling if we want to see expeditious disposal of rape trials. Judges have to learn to say “no “to adjournments.
We have a long way to go for expeditious access to justice for women facing sexual violence.