Roadmap on destitute widows lacks crucial aspects, says SC
The Supreme Court on Tuesday said the Centre's roadmap to improve condition of destitute widows has not addressed issues like national policy on empowerment of women, nourishment, sanitation and hygiene at shelter homes.
After going through the roadmap given by the Centre, a bench comprising Justices Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta also observed that the important aspect of re-marriage of widows aged between 16 and 20 years was missing and the government should encourage it.
The apex court said it was "not doubting" the Centre's plan to improve the condition of destitute widows across the country, but "it has to be done in a proper manner".
"A national policy for empowerment of women had come in 2001. Over 15 years have gone by, but no empowerment of women is there," the bench observed after Solicitor General (SG) Ranjit Kumar read out the contents of government's roadmap.
"There are two-three things which we want to say. You need to update the national policy for empowerment of women.
You have not addressed the issue of nourishment. Most of these women are malnourished. "It is a huge problem. You address this issue or else we are not going to reach anywhere," it said.
The apex court reserved its order on the pleas seeking directions to the Centre and the state government to provide shelter and other necessary facilities to widows in Vrindavan in Uttar Pradesh who have been abandoned by their family members and other parts of the country.
The bench said it was contemplating constituting a committee which would go through various reports filed before it in the matter and would give suggestions on the steps which were required to be taken to improve the situation.
It asked the parties to give names so that a committee could be formed after which the SG suggested three names -- Anuradha Kapoor of the NGO 'Swayam', Suneeta Dhar of the NGO 'Jagori' and Meera Khanna of 'Guild of Service'.
The bench, however, asked the parties to give five names, but the SG said he would give it within two days.
During the hearing, the solicitor general read out in detail the steps, including creation of interactive database of destitute widows, mechanism for providing them legal aid, funds for infrastructural development of shelter homes, skill development of such women so that they can be self-employed, which the government was planning to take.
The government said that besides these, they also have a roadmap for imparting training to staffs employed at shelter homes, vocational training of destitute widows, appointment of counsellors and steps to ensure access to health facilities for them.
However, the bench observed, "Another important aspect which is missing is that there is nothing about re-marriage of widows aged between 16 to 20 years. You should encourage them to re-marry. There is nothing about it in the report.
"One thing is to say that everything is very good. The other thing is what is actually happening on the ground. We have a report of the member secretary of the legal services authority which says it is a hopeless situation. It says nothing is there in these (shelter) homes," the bench said.
When the SG said that this report was of 2014 and the situation has improved, the bench said, "Yes, but the government report of 2014 said that there is everything.
"We are not saying whatever you are saying is useless," it said and asked about the budgetary allocation for carrying out the works as suggested by the Centre.
On the issue of providing nutrition to destitute widows, the bench observed, "Every person requires some basic nourishment whether he or she is a child or an adult. There are newspaper reports about it. Maharashtra is in such a bad shape. The country is in a bad shape as far as malnutrition is concerned".
The apex court had earlier asked the Centre to convene a meeting to consider the suggestions mooted by the National Commission for Women (NCW) and formulate directions to improve the condition of destitute widows.
The court had taken note of the pathetic situation faced by the widows after a petition was filed in 2007 portraying their condition in the welfare homes at Vrindavan.
It had earlier referred to various reports filed by the National Legal Services Authority, the District Legal Services Authority and the NCW on the condition of shelter homes for widows in Vrindavan.
One of the reports had said that there was lack of proper toilets and bathrooms in the shelter homes, besides poor water and electricity facilities.