Despite the work of the the Delhi Commission for Women showing results for the first time in years, its autonomy is being compromised, its head says.
New Delhi: As chairperson of the Delhi Commission for Women (DCW), the last year has been very eventful for Swati Maliwal. From controversies surrounding her appointment and officials being appointed to the commission despite her opposition to two FIRs being registered against her, the anti-corruption, RTI and women’s rights activist has withstood all kinds of opposition. However, the denial of salaries to the staff appointed by her has proven to be the proverbial last straw with Maliwal now compelled to stand up against her detractors.
First, she wrote a letter to lieutenant governor Najeeb Jung detailing the various attempts that have been made to thwart her work at the commission, which has over the last year become much more responsive to the complaints of women than it was ever before. She then went on to criticise his appointment of an IAS officer, Dilraj Kaur, as the DCW’s member secretary despite the decision being opposed by her and by chief minister Arvind Kejriwal. Incidentally, Kaur was appointed to replace Alka Dewan, who superannuated and who was accused of blocking most of Maliwal’s decisions in the DCW earlier.
On Thursday, Maliwal criticised Jung for pushing the appointment of Kaur. Maliwal, who had earlier accused Jung and the officials appointed by him of sabotaging the autonomy of the commission, said that the appointment of the women and child development (WCD) secretary as the member secretary of the commission would create a conflict of interest as the panel was regularly issuing notices to know the condition of the Nari Niketan, old age homes, rehabilitation homes etc, which come under the WCD department. “Instead of ensuring that her work is proper, the LG, very conveniently, has posted her as a member secretary in the commission, creating a direct conflict of interest,” Maliwal said.
The appointment of Kaur has for the third time led to a situation where two officials have been appointed to the same post – one by Jung and another by Kejriwal.
In this case, Kaur now “shares” the position with P.P. Dhal, the government’s appointee, who assumed charge just a day before Kaur on December 13. Prior to this, a similar situation had arisen when Dharam Pal and Rajendra Kumar were appointed home secretary, and M.K. Meena and S.S. Yadav had been appointed the anti-corruption bureau chief by the LG and chief minister respectively.
In the case of the DCW member secretary appointment, Maliwal is clear that this is another attempt by the Centre to not allow her to work freely, considering that she has turned around the work culture at the panel.
Talking to The Wire, Maliwal said her work speaks for itself. “During my term [2015-16] the number of cases dealt with by the commission rose to 11,696 from 3,498 in the previous year; the number of recommendations given to the government under Section 10 of the DCW Act increased to 55 from just one over the previous eight years and several new programs were launched such as Acid Watch and Rehabilitation Cell, Crime against Women Research Cell and Anti Human Trafficking and Rehabilitation Cell.”
Apart from this, she said the 181 Women’s Helpline had been activated and 2.16 lakh calls had been received on it in just six months. “With an average of six rapes taking place every day, we have also strengthened the rape crisis cells and these dealt with 5,733 cases. Also, the number of its lawyers was increased to 22 from six earlier. The Crisis Intervention Centre counsellors also dealt with 1,869 cases of sexual assault.”
Noting that even after the Nirbhaya incident, the task force established under the Ministry of Home Affairs had only met 12 times in three years and that the home secretary had sought its closure after uncomfortable questions were posed to him in a meeting, she said the DCW had for its part ensured compensation for 97 victims of sexual assault.
“As for the Delhi police investigation, the less said the better,” she said, adding that in the 11,000 complaints received by the Crime Against Women Cell, the police by its own records had managed to secure conviction in just nine, whereas according to the DCW data, conviction was secured in about 150 cases. “This shows that not only are they not bothered about the cases, they also do not track them properly.”
Maliwal said that of the 11,000 cases reported in 2014, she was shocked to learn that only about 50% had been investigated till February 2016. “They do not even have a proper filing system,” she alleged. And this lackadaisical approach was also visible in how the evidence in such serious cases of CAW was treated. “Of the 2,500 samples pending with the forensic science laboratories, 1,500 were found to have expired. We have written to the Delhi government about this,” she added.
Maliwal, who had worked with Kejriwal in the NGO sector for eight years, said she has also approached the Delhi high court with 55 recommendations on strengthening women’s rights and the hearing in the matter was scheduled for December 21 in the court of Justice B.D. Ahmed.
On how attempts were being made to break the autonomy of the commission, she said that three audits had been ordered by the LG, and Dewan as member secretary had started sending all the files to the Delhi government departments for financial and other approvals. “If for even a cup of tea we would have to look towards these departments for money, then how are we supposed to function independently and issue notices to them for various violations?” she asked.
One major issue she has with the LG is in regards to the withholding of salaries of the contractual workers appointed by her. In a letter to Jung, she noted that Dewan, who was given additional charge of member secretary, had withheld the salaries of the entire contractual workforce of the commission for nearly three months. These 95 people were engaged on emergent short-term assignments to assist the commission in the discharge of its statutory functions and were operating crucial programmes of the commission such as the 181 Women Helpline, the Mobile Helpline Program, Rape Crisis Cell and others.
“The actions of the member secretary,” Maliwal had alleged, were “severely hampering the work of the commission and if not remedied immediately, would virtually lead to the closure of the commission.”
Maliwal also told The Wire that though she had requested filling up of 25 regular posts in October 2015 and 255 in September 2016, for the past few months the files have been stuck with Delhi government officials and have not even reached the chief minister. “The government is not giving us the requisite staff. We have less than 90 people on the rolls of whom 80 get less than Rs 25,000 per month. This needs to change urgently,” she said.
However, from the manner in which Jung and Kejriwal have once again got locked in a battle of attrition, it seems unlikely that the equations would change, at least not until January 18, when the Supreme Court is due for a final hearing in the devolution of powers issue pertaining to the Delhi government. The apex court has already stated that the “elected government” has certain powers and duties. It remains to be seen if the judgment in the matter would also result in greater autonomy for the DCW.