Millennium Post

Securing a better tomorrow

How has your experience been in the ministry till now?
It is a challenging ministry to handle because it had no preset parameters when I joined and therefore nobody had done any notable work in it for ages. Basically this was a ministry which existed only to give salary to women anganwadi workers. We then had to map out what it is that this ministry had to do to change India - which is the core purpose of a ministry. Therefore I made a strategy board (which you can see in the image on the right), after consulting all stakeholders on what I will do while I am here. That board has become about 70 things that we are working on currently.  We are making incremental changes on everything ranging from small to big - in every conceivable area that we can bring about a change for the betterment of women and children.

Tell us more about this vision board.
This board is based on what Indian women and children need, with inputs from experts who have been working in this field. We have also clarified what the powers of the ministry are and which areas need change. The vision board is an alchemy of all these aspects.

What are the new initiatives taken up by your ministry in this government?

(Explaining on the board) We try very hard in this ministry to make things happen. We work relentlessly on clearing files, removing the fake applications etc. We were the first to take up the Juvenile Justice Act and work on it.

Taking about the Juvenile Justice Act (JJ Act) what are the recommendations or changes you have in mind for it?
This was the first Act to be placed before Parliament. The JJ Act is a complex act and contains three salient points. This is regarding the change in our attitudes towards 16 year olds who commit heinous crimes. The first view on the issue is that all those 16 years olds, who commit any crime, should be sent to the adult criminal justice system. In effect we bring it down completely. This demarcation of age in many counties has come down to 12 years, including the US, which implies recognising adolescents as adults for many crimes. The second view is that children are children. No matter what they do they should be treated as children. The third view is the current status quo, i.e. if a 16 year old commits a heinous crime that has been codified specifically as one, he will appear before the juvenile justice board. They will then decide whether he committed this crime with an adult or a childish bent of mind. If it is found that he committed it with an adult bent of mind then he goes into the adult legal system. But even in that system if he is convicted or waiting as an under trial, he will go in the children’s section and not the adult one. If he is convicted he stays there till he is 21. Again when he is 21, he will be re-examined to see whether he has reformed or not. If he has reformed he will be let out and if not then he will continue to complete his sentence.
What have been your achievements in the ministry till date?
There are various issues on which my ministry is keenly working on. One issue I have talked about is the JJ Act, the other one is adoption, as well as relevant issues like-skill development, nutrition, crime against women, safety and security of women, one stop crisis centres and various other pertinent problems.

Tell us about your perspective on  Zero Tolerance for Delays in the Adoption Process and how do you plan to make the process hassle-free and faster?
When I came here, there were Central Adoption Resource Authority (CARA) reforms, which had made a complete mess of the issue over so many years. We have reformed it and made the process very simple. It will be further simplified once the act is passed. It gives specific responsibilities and punishment protocols to adoption centres. Now we are even having adoption workshops all over India. There will also be a new foster care scheme. The government will pay you to take care of the child. Under this scheme one can foster up to two to three children. We will keep a stringent check on people who opt for this scheme so that children are not treated like servants by them.

In the ministry how do you plan to take up the issue of employment of women and especially keeping in mind PM’s vision of skill development?

For this we invented the Step programme for which have received around 3000 applications for skill development in the last two weeks. We give money to anyone who wants to train 200 women at a time. After that we will help these women get loans so they can start working independently as well.  We have the Rashtriya Mahila Kosh (RMK) and through that we will be working towards giving them loans at reduced rates. The essential focus of this programme is to generate self-employment for women who live in villages and can work from there.

Tell us about the ministry’s initiative to deal with malnutrition among children and women? Also tell us about the ministry’s initiative regarding anganwadi centres?

Nutrition is one big focus area for the ministry. It ties up with the Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao programme and many more factors come into play. We invented the concept of anganwadis and around 24 lakh workers across India get a basic pay of Rs 3000 plus the state gives them more. The amount given to them at each state level varies; for example Uttar Pradesh gives them Rs 200 per month while Goa gives them Rs 12000. It is highly uneven. Their job is to look after pregnant women and children from the time they are born to three years of age. Till now they have never been trained and there has been no supervision over them, so the standard has really suffered when it comes to food and child care. This has resulted in creating high malnutrition levels- which is currently 47 per cent in India-which is very dangerous as it causes an impaired brain. We are retraining these workers. We are also doing substantial food reforms. We have also handed them instruments like weighing machines which will be connected to a Global Positioning Monitoring system. They have to update it on tablets given to them on a daily basis. We are monitoring and tabulating all their work every day.

Is the ministry taking up the issue of Complaints of Sexual harassment of women at workplace? If so, how?

This is a major area of concern for us although we have not been very successful in it till now but now we are working very energetically on changing it. If workplaces do not constitute a sexual harassment committee then action will be taken against them, both in the private sector as well in government.

How is the ministry addressing the issue of missing children in the country?
We are working with the railway ministry for the initiative and this is perhaps for the first time since Independence (after railways were set up) that such a step has been taken. We discovered that the 5 lakh missing children in our country could be divided into – runaway children and missing children. Both categories of children travel by train.  The railways do not check for ticketless passengers because they have Travelling Ticket Examiner (TTE)s who check for passengers in the reserved compartment and do not go to the unreserved compartments. In an unreserved compartment if there is a runaway child who is travelling it is very difficult to track them.

In one month alone we have picked up about 700-800 such children. The minute such children arrive at a railway station they either have people waiting for them to take them away as labour and then pay them in drugs or they are picked up by a gang of children. Now every compartment will have two to three permanent posters telling passengers that if they notice a child who is unaccompanied then they should inform the concerned authorities. The numbers are printed on those posters. Also booths are being put up across railways stations which will allow the child to use the helpline number - 1098 so that designated NGOs will come help and rescue them.

We have agreed on a Standard Operating Procedure with railways, which ensures that all railway personnel will be trained and sensitised for this programme. They will give a monthly report on how many cases of missing children were reported by them. It is a reward and punishment scheme. We are also stationing NGOs and paying them to look into this issue.  We are focusing on 20 stations to begin with and then we will expand to say 200 more. This project is on a trial run. Very soon it will be implemented on a nationwide scale once we assess its functionality.
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