The year 2015 saw the Delhi Commission for Women (DCW) playing a more proactive role as its new chief Swati Maliwal strove hard to achieve her goal of making Delhi safer for women and children.
Maliwal took over the reins of the Commission from Barkha Shukla Singh, who was appointed during the Congress regime and completed her tenure in July.
Towards the fag end of her stint, Singh was embroiled in a row with the AAP government, ostensibly over her apparent patronage of Lipika Mitra, wife of AAP leader Somnath Bharti, an act that was largely perceived as having deeper political connotations.
Maliwal with her hands-on approach revved up the functioning of the Commission, addressing diverse issues and plunged into situations where a woman was in need, with a steely determination to make the DCW meet its objectives.
Determined to change the Commission’s image of a “powerless body”, Maliwal after consultations with experts and lawyers also found that under the Delhi Commission for Women Act 1994, Commission has the authority to issue arrest warrants and order attachment of property and salary if a person disobeys its summons.
Five months in office and with the new year about to ring in, Maliwal says her focus remains on making Delhi safer for women and children and promoting cooperation among all agencies involved in working for the same.
The DCW chairperson has emphasised on creating a coordination committee with the Union Home Minister, Delhi Government, Lt Governor, Delhi Police as well as thana-level committees besides DCW for area-based safety issues.
This is in concert with the DCW’s mission of instituting systemic changes.
With respect to sectors requiring improvement, the Commission has been insistent on the requirement of police reforms in order to enforce greater accountability, right from filing FIRs to due diligence for charge-sheeting and conviction.
“There must be concerted action to address the fact that of approximately 11,000 cases of crimes against women in Delhi in 2014, only 9 persons were convicted. Secondly, there is a need to work on expanding the capacity of forensics labs in Delhi to tackle the huge forensic demands and subsequent delays in convictions,” Maliwal told PTI.
The Commission has also sought utilisation of the Nirbhaya Fund on public transport safety and last-mile connectivity for women by supporting a proposal to install CCTV cameras in DTC buses.
“The Commission is working towards ensuring proper rehabilitation of acid attack victims. We will also be continuing our proposal for reforms pertaining to sufficient compensation and educational opportunities for rape victims as well as creating a healthier climate in university campuses regarding the implementation of the Sexual Harassment at Workplace Act, 2013,” Maliwal says.
In a dramatic post-midnight move, the DCW also approached the Supreme court seeking a stay on the release of the juvenile convict in the December 16 gangrape incident, an initiative that earned plaudits from several quarters.
Ask her about the challenges she had to overcome, Maliwal says that when she took charge, she was confronted with a difficult task of building an organisation from scratch.
“The Commission, which had been hitherto neglected, was in need of systemic overhaul. No systems were in place for satisfying the objectives of the commission as outlined in the Delhi Commission for Women Act.
“From instituting employee accountability in our own organisation, to creating channels of communication with Delhi Police, Home Minister and other agencies tasked with the mandate of promoting the welfare of women, the newly- constituted Commission has to complete it all within a few short months,” she says.
According to a RTI reply, the DCW in the first three months under Maliwal’s steerage has made more than nine recommendations to the state and central government whereas the number stood at just one during the eight-year tenure of Singh.
Apart from that, Maliwal till mid-September pursued more than 200 cases registered with the commission, whereas Singh, pursued only one case in eight years, the RTI reply said.