The underutilization of Nirbhaya funds remains a big issue, says the opposition.
In reaction to Chief Minister Basavraj Bommai’s declaration of the upcoming women-friendly budget, opposition parties have termed the move as a last-minute election gimmick to woo female voters.
The CM announced that the government would be launching Stree Samarthya Yojane next month, aiming to generate self-employment for five lakh women in the state. He declared that Stree Shakti groups will get financial assistance of Rs. five lakhs to help them in starting their own small businesses.
General Secretary of Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee, Mansoor Ali Khan said “If the government was so concerned about empowering women, why wasn’t this scheme implemented in the last three years? What were they doing then?” he asked, calling it a move to attract women voters.
Questioning the intention of the government, opposition parties have raised concerns over the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) seriousness towards women’s welfare schemes. “They are planning to introduce another scheme; meanwhile, the funds under the Nirbhaya scheme still remain underutilized,” said Prathap Kanagal, spokesperson, Janata Dal (Secular).
Mansoor Ali Khan also reiterated that the government hadn’t utilized the funds fully. “The underutilization of Nirbahaya funds is a reflection of their attitude towards women’s safety. They should have increased the funds but for that to happen they should have used the already allocated amount,” he said. Khan added that the government must have sought a 40 percent commission here as well which could be a major reason for this underutilization.
Under the Nirbhaya fund, Rs. 288 crores were released by the state government and the government has utilised 78 percent of it till now.
BJP spokesperson Suresh N said, 78 percent utilization of funds compared to other states was extraordinary. He said the remaining funds were kept as emergency funds in case new grants were to be introduced for women.
He also said the new scheme would only strengthen the already in-place schemes and grants for women. “The details of Stree Samarthtya Yojane will be announced in the budget next month,” he added.
Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP) Bangalore president, Mohan Dasari said that the Nirbhaya funds were supposed to make the state safe for women but he had only seen the opposite of what was expected. “CCTV cameras were supposed to be installed but I haven’t seen any CCTV cameras in the city. Many streets are in dearth of street lights. How do you expect women to feel safe on such roads at night?” he said, questioning the safety of women in the state.
He added that despite having funds the government has not installed cameras in the city. “Honeywell Corporation was willing to install CCTV cameras across the entire city but the government rejected the proposal only because they refused to pay commission for the project,” he claimed.
Dr. Surendra Kumar, a political science professor at Bangalore University, said not just the Nirbhaya funds, but there were many other schemes where a major chunk of the funds were merely used for the publicity of the scheme.
Shaheen (name changed), a 48-year-old woman who has been a victim of domestic violence for a decade now said women-friendly schemes would definitely empower women but such schemes usually didn’t reach the women who actually needed them.
The National Health and Family (NHFS-5) Survey, 2020-21, Karnataka reported the highest number of domestic violence cases amongst women.
However, Suresh N, said that women have never felt this safe in the city before. “Domestic violence is a social issue, not a criminal issue. Criminal issues involve bigger issues and Bangalore has seen a decline in them. Bangalore roads are safe for women for the first time in many years,” said Suresh. But, according to the recent National Crimes Record Bureau (NCRB) data of 2020, Karnataka ranked 13th amongst all states and UTs in the highest number of crimes against women with a crime rate of 38 percent.
Anil Taikal, Spokesperson of the Indian National Congress (INC), Karnataka, said that BJP needed to do some serious introspection about its policies.
Khan, doubting the safety of women, in the city said, “The condition of women under this government’s rule has only worsened. They announce such schemes out of thin air without much thought into it.”
Dr. Kumar said since the Election Code of Conduct had not been implemented till now, political parties were free to make such promises. “At this point, not just BJP but all parties will come with schemes to attract voters. Congress also announced Rs. 2000 for each woman head of the family under the Gruha Lakshmi Scheme,” he said.
He said the parties could go to any extent to lure voters into voting for them. “Manifesto would come at a later stage and people in India don’t read the manifesto before voting. Therefore, announcements like these often attract voters. Such announcements do have an effect on people, but to what extent, that remains ambiguous,” he concluded.