The Central government has told the Supreme Court that there is no provision under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence (PWDV) Act, to release funds to state governments, yet for the effective implementation of the Act, funds are released for schemes pertaining to safety and security of women and children.
In a counter affidavit, the Ministry of Women and Child Development said: “Though under the PWDV Act, there is no provision to release funds from Central government directly in the name of PWDV Act, yet for effective implementation of the Act, funds are released to states/UTs under various central schemes/ programmes pertaining to safety and security of women and children.”
The ministry emphasised that it is working in tandem with state governments and UTs for effective implementation of the PWDV Act and “also constantly endeavouring to combat all the crimes against the women including cases of domestic violence”.
The top court had asked the government to indicate broadly what are the desirable qualifications and eligible terms for the creation of a regular cadre of protection officers, as well as the nature of their training and other standards.
To this, the Centre said it may not be in position to prescribe a uniform and regular cadre structure for appointment of protection officers as their appointments are by states, depending on their requirements – such as the number of districts, number cases, and number of magistrates to look after domestic violence cases etc.,
The affidavit added: “As per information received from states/UTs, a total of 2,95,601 complaints/litigations have been registered under PWDV Act, whereas number of courts for the purpose has been reported as 6,289. There are 807 shelter homes and over 700 one stop centres (OSCs) to take care of women affected by violence and in distress across the country.”
It said as per the provisions of PWDV Act, the responsibility of its implementation mainly lies with the state governments and UT administrations, as they have been authorised to appoint protection officers in each district by notification.
“As per information received from states/UTs, total number of protection officers notified under PWDV Act in the country is 3,637 and out of which 710 are holding regular charge, 272 are working on contract basis and remaining are holding additional charge,” it added.
The ministry said states/UTs have assigned additional charges of the post of protection officer to the departmental officers looking after child welfare or protection, or women welfare. It added that the protection officers are appointed by the state governments and they can be selected/appointed from a non-government organisation also.
On the aspect of a separate cadre for protection officer for various Acts for women – The Dowry Prohibition Act, the PWDV Act, The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act 2013, The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, etc, the ministry said: “Majority of states/UTs have proposed for a separate cadre structure for protection officer for effective implementation of PWDV Act, as per information received from them so far.”
According to the Centre, there are 35 projects or schemes being implemented by various ministries, under Nirbhaya Fund.
Additional Solicitor General Aishwarya Bhati represented the Central government in the top court.
The Centre’s response came on a plea filed by NGO ‘We the Women of India” seeking to plug massive gaps in infrastructure under PWDV Act, across the country for providing effective legal aid to females abused in matrimonial homes. The NGO also sought creation of shelter homes for women post lodging of complaints against husbands and in-laws. The NGO was represented by advocate Shobha Gupta.
On February 25, a bench headed by Justice U.U. Lalit and comprising Justices S. Ravindra Bhat and P.S. Narasimha noted that the Union has indicated that in some states, if not all, the situation is far from satisfactory.
“Many states have chosen to designate Revenue Officers or members of the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) as protection officers. This clearly was not the intent of the lawmakers, since such revenue or administrative officials would be unable to devote time to discharge the fairly intense work required and expected of protection officers,” noted the bench, in its order.
The top court had asked the Centre to file an affidavit on the nature of central programmes/plans outlining assistances to support the efforts under the domestic violence act by various states, collect state-wise relevant data of litigation under the Act with respect to the complaints made, number of courts, and, the relative number of protection officers (POs), and other aspects connected with POs.