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Analysis

Less than 30% of Nirbhaya Fund utilised: RTI reply

The WCD Ministry had issued a clarification on the utilisation of the Nirbhaya Fund after repeated reports of its underutilisation were published.

Photo Cridit : DNA India

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Less than 30 per cent of the much-hyped Nirbhaya Fund, that now has run up to Rs 3,100 crores, has been utilised so far in the last five years despite tall claims by the government on women’s safety and welfare in the country, an RTI reply has revealed.

The government, in the Union Budget that Finance Minister Arun Jaitley presented on February 1, proposed to pump in another Rs 500 crore into the non-lapsable corpus fund that was launched in the aftermath of nationwide outrage over the brutal rape and murder of a 23-year-old woman — given the moniker Nirbhaya, or fearless, by the media — in the capital on December 16, 2012.

In response to a RTI query by IANS, the Ministry of Women and Child Development (WCD) said only Rs 825 crore has been utilised from the Nirbhaya Fund — which was named after the woman — till date out of the Rs 2,711 crore that accumulated in 2017-18.

Till January 2018, 21 proposals have been appraised by the WCD Ministry, of which 17 have been implemented.

The RTI query revealed that only Rs 50 crore has been utilised by the Railway Ministry, which was given Rs 500 crore from the fund for its proposal — Integrated Emergency Response Management System (IERMS).

The WCD Ministry had proposed seven schemes under the Nirbhaya Fund where the majority of the fund was allotted to One Stop Centres (OSCs) — a much-hyped scheme which was started in 2015. But it too remains unutilised. The reply said that only Rs 81 crore from the Rs 458 crore allocated has been disbursed in three years.

The OSCs are supposed to provide access to services like medical aid, police assistance, legal aid and psycho-social counselling to victims of sexual assaults.

The RTI also revealed that in another scheme, Women’s Helplines, for which Rs 156 crore was allocated, only Rs 21 crore has been disbursed.

Nine of the schemes come from the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), of which seven have been initiated. The total fund allocated for MHA is Rs 1,273 crore, out of which Rs 554 crore has been utilised.

Two heavy budget schemes recommended by MHA — ‘Creation of Investigative Units for Crime against Women’ (IUCAW) (Rs 324 crore) and ‘Safe City Project’ in Odisha (Rs 110 crore) remain untouched, the RTI reply reveals.

According to the reply, the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways had also forwarded three schemes, of which the funds for one — training women to drive heavy passenger vehicles in Bengaluru (Rs 56 crore allocated) — has been unused.

The responsibility of the Nirbhaya Fund went to the WCD, which replaced MHA as the nodal ministry in 2015 after questions were raised on the utilisation of the sanctioned amounts. However, even under WCD, a majority of the fund remains unutilised.

Even last year, the WCD Ministry had issued a clarification on the utilisation of the Nirbhaya Fund after repeated reports of its underutilisation were published.

According the ministry, other states and ministries were requested and reminded in August last year to send in innovative proposals that can enhance the security and safety of women, but no details have been provided by WCD.

While acting NCW Chairperson Rekha Sharma maintained her silence of the use of the Nirbhaya Fund stating that it is not its responsibility to follow up on the various schemes, Lalitha Kumaramangalam, former NCW Chairperson, told IANS that the funds have not been utilised properly.

“The funds have not been utilised properly by the ministry whereas it should have been done — a long time back. Now WCD is considering utilising the fund. There are good people now in the ministry; they should hurry up,” Kumaramangalam stated.

Ranjana Kumari of the Centre for Social Research India (CSRI) had pointed out that allocating Rs 500 crore to the Railways for its IEMRS scheme was a poor step.

“Railways is a well-established ministry which can afford to set up CCTV cameras; it doesn’t make sense to use the Nirbhaya Fund for it. In any case, the cameras are hardly monitored,” Kumari added.

(Somrita Ghosh can be contacted at [email protected])

Analysis

YouTube testing new video recommendation format: Report

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San Francisco, Jan 16 : Google-owned video sharing platform YouTube is testing a new video recommendation format that displays blue bubbles on the screen with relevant keywords and related topic suggestions, facilitating easier browsing, media reported.

“The screenshots obtained show these blue bubbles just underneath the video player showing more specific video recommendations,” The Verge reported on Tuesday.

The video-sharing platform is currently testing the feature with some users on its main desktop page as well as on the mobile app.

For sometime now users have been complaining that the videos recommended on the side on YouTube’s interface often have little to do with the current video, making recommendations a point of contention for the platform.

“It’s unclear if the videos that populate from the new recommendation bubbles will face similar algorithmic issues that YouTube’s recommendation feed currently suffers,” the report added.

There has not been any word from YouTube as of now on the working of these blue bubbles and whether or not they will roll out the test feature to a bigger group in the coming months.

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Analysis

2002 Gujarat riots: Judge P.B. Desai ignored evidence, says activist Harsh Mander

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Harsh Mander

New Delhi, Jan 9 : Special SIT court judge P.B. Desai “ignored evidence” that former Congress MP Ehsan Jafri, who was killed in a mob attack in Ahmedabad’s Gulberg Housing Society during the 2002 riots, did all that was possible within his power to protect Muslims from the “rage of the mob” and instead echoed the position of then Chief Minister Narendra Modi that his killing was only a “reaction” to his “action” of shooting at the mob, says human rights activist Harsh Mander.

He says that “the learned judge”, who retired in December 2017, overlooked statements by surviving witnesses that Jafri made repeated desperate calls to senior police officers and other persons in authority, “including allegedly Chief Minister Modi”, pleading that security forces be sent to “disperse the crowd” and rescue those “against whom the mob had laid a powerful siege”.

Mander, who quit the IAS in Gujarat in the wake of the riots, makes these observations in his just released book, “Partitions of the Heart: Unmaking the Idea of India”, published by Penguin.

The 66-year-old activist, who works with survivors of mass violence and hunger as well as homeless persons and street children, goes on to quote the late journalist Kuldip Nayar to establish that Jafri had desperately telephoned him, “begging him to contact someone in authority to send in the police or the Army to rescue them”.

Mander says Nayar rang up the Union Home Ministry to convey to it the seriousness of the situation. The Home Ministry said it was in touch with the state government and was “watching” the situation. Jafri called again, pleading with Nayar to do something as the mob was threatening to lynch him.

In the chapter titled “Whatever happened in Gulberg Society?”, Mander contends that Jafri did everything within his power to protect “those who believed that his influence would shield them from the rage of the mob”. Mander says Jafri begged the mob to “take his life instead” and in a show of valour went out “to plead and negotiate” with the angry crowd.

“When he realised that no one in authority would come in for their protection, he also did pick up his licensed firearm and shoot at the crowd…,” Mander notes, describing it as the “final vain bid” on behalf of Jafri to protect the Muslims in the line of fire.

The author notes that in describing Jafri’s final resort to firing as an illegitimate action, the judge only echoed the position taken repeatedly by Modi, who had given an interview to a newspaper in which he had said that it was Jafri who had first fired at the mob.

“He forgot to say what a citizen is expected to do when a menacing mob, which has already slaughtered many, approaches him and the police has deliberately not responded to his pleas,” says Mander.

He says that it was as if even when under attack and surrounded by an armed mob warning to slaughter them, “and with acid bombs and burning rags flung at them”, a good Muslim victim should do nothing except plead, and this would ensure their safety.

Ehsan Jafri’s wife Zakia Jafri, according to Mander, was firmly convinced that her husband was killed because of a conspiracy that went right to the top of the state administration, beginning with Modi. The author notes that the court, in its judgement running into more than 1,300 pages, disagreed.

“It did indict 11 people for the murder but they were just foot soldiers,” observed Mander.

He further says that the story the survivors told the judge over prolonged hearings was consistent but Judge Desai was convinced that there was “no conspiracy behind the slaughter” and that the administration did all it could to control it.

“Jafri, by the judge’s reckoning, and that of Modi, was responsible for his own slaughter,” he laments.

Mander also argues in the book that recurring episodes of communal violence in Ahmedabad had altered the city’s demography, dividing it into Hindu and Muslim areas and Gulberg was among the last remaining “Muslim” settlements in the “Hindu” section of the city.

He says that Desai also disregarded the evidence in the conversations secretly taped by Tehelka reporters, mentioning that superior courts, according to Desai himself, have ruled that while a person cannot be convicted exclusively based on the evidence collected in such “sting operations”, such evidence is certainly “admissible as corroborative proof”.

“But he chose to disregard this evidence, not because there was proof that these video recordings were in any way doctored or false but simply because the Special Investigative Team (SIT) appointed by the Supreme Court of India chose to ignore this evidence,” says Mander.

According to Mander, the Tehelka recordings “certainly supported the theory that there was indeed a plan to collect, incite and arm the mob to undertake the gruesome slaughter”.

The SIT was headed by R.K. Raghavan, today Ambassador to Cyprus. Mander contends in the book that just because the investigators did not pursue Tehelka recordings in greater depth, Desai concluded that the “recordings cannot be relied upon as trustworthy of substantial evidence and establish any conspiracy herein”.

In the book, Mander takes stock of whether India has upheld the values it had set out to achieve and offers painful, unsparing insight into the contours of violence. The book is now available both online and in bookstores.

(Saket Suman can be contacted at [email protected])

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Analysis

Number of suicides highest in Army amongst three services

In the Air Force, the number of suspected suicides was 21 in 2017 and 19 in 2016. For the Navy, these numbers were 5 and 6 for 2017 and 2016, respectively.

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Ajit Doval

New Delhi, Jan 7 : The number of defence personnel committing suicide was highest in the Army amongst the three services in the last three years, data shows.

In 2018 alone, as many as 80 Army personnel are believed to have committed suicide. This number is 16 for Air Force and 08 for the Navy, Minister of State (MoS) for Defence Subhash Bhamre told the Rajya Sabha in a written reply on Monday.

In 2017, the number of Army men who are suspected to have committed suicide was 75, while in 2016 this number was 104.

In the Air Force, the number of suspected suicides was 21 in 2017 and 19 in 2016. For the Navy, these numbers were 5 and 6 for 2017 and 2016, respectively.

In his reply, the Minister said that various steps have been taken by the armed forces to create healthy environment for their officers and other ranks.

“Some of the steps include provision of better facilities such as clothing, food, married accommodation, travel facilities, schooling, recreation etc and periodic welfare meetings, promoting yoga and meditation as a tool for stress management, and training and deployment of psychological counsellors,” the reply read.

It said mental health awareness is provided during pre-induction training.

Besides, institutionalisation of projects “MILAP” and “SAHYOG” by the Army in Northern and Eastern Commands to reduce stress among troops has been done.

A helpline has also been established by the Army and the Air Force to provide professional counselling.

IANS

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