SC seeks data from Centre on domestic violence law within 4 weeks

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Not happy with the decision by states to have revenue officers and district collectors appointed as protection officers, meant to be the first contact for women in distress under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act of 2005, the Supreme Court on Friday embarked on a reality check to discover how effective this legislation’s 17-year journey has been by directing the Centre to provide the number of pending litigations, complaints filed, besides funding pattern and eligibility criteria for protection officers.

While ordering the Centre to provide this information within four weeks, the bench commented that grand laws are made in the country with hardly any mechanism to know its effectiveness on ground.

“It is one thing to create a beautiful, grand law but at the ground, how do you create a mechanism to get feedback to pull the reins tighter,” said a bench of justices UU Lalit, S Ravindra Bhat and PS Narasimha.

The observations came while the Court was dealing with a PIL filed by We the Women of India, a NGO which alleged that the protection officers provided under the Act are not sufficient. Advocate Shobha Gupta who appeared for the NGO told the Court that even if they have been appointed, there is hardly any information available for women who are victims of domestic violence to approach them for protection, compensation, and other reliefs envisaged under the Act.

Responding to the PIL, the Centre filed an affidavit stating that the Central law has to be implemented by the states and union territories. Additional solicitor general (ASG) Aishwarya Bhati appearing for the ministry of women and child development (WCD) told the Court that in 27 states and six union territories there are 2541 protection officers.

On a closer look of the list, the bench said, “It is very well to say you have 2500 bulk officers but these governments are designating revenue officers and sub-collectors holding additional responsibility as protection officers. This is not the intention of the Act. There has to be a dedicated cadre. How do you expect IAS officers to be protection officers?”

The Court further wished to know if Centre provides funds to states or the operation of the Act is managed using resources available with states. ASG informed the Court that in 2018, the Centre wrote to states asking them to appoint sufficient number of protection officers. “In 2018, you were aware this has to be done and you are still continuing with this. It is essential to have a specific cadre. In some states, geographical dispersion is large, so having an officer in each district will not be enough,” the bench observed.

The Court gave Centre four weeks to collect details on what forms of central assistance can be provide to support the state to implement the Act and the extent of such funding. It also sought relevant data on pending litigations, complaints, number of designated courts, and relative proportion of protection officers. Further, the Court required Centre to spell out desirable eligibility terms of protection officers in terms of creating a cadre, and training qualifications.

“These particulars are essential as protection officers, like Magistrates, tasked with the implementation of the law, serve as the backbone of the law,” the bench observed. On the next date of hearing, the Court requested the WCD Ministry to depute an Additional Secretary who can assist the Court with information under the law.

The petition had stated, “The Act provides a ‘Network of Assistance’ to help women victims of domestic violence to assist them to seek advice, raise grievance, file complaints, pursue remedies, attend Magistrate court or seek shelter.” It further stated that each district in every state and union territory should maintain a list of protection officers, service providers and shelter homes and share this information centrally on the website of the Ministry of Women and Child Development (WCD), or the official portals of National Commission for Women (NCW), State Commissions for Women, or at the local police stations. However, this was not being done and hence the petition was filed to implement the provisions of this law.

The Centre’s affidavit said, “The 2005 Act recognizes the right of all women in a domestic relationship to live free from any form of domestic violence. It includes all forms of violence which can be physical, sexual, verbal, emotional, and economic abuse. The Act provides for Protection officers and Service providers whose primary duty is to assist women in accessing reliefs provided under the Act which includes protection order, residence order, monetary relief, custody order and compensation order.”


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