Poor funding, inadequate training affect Modi govt’s One Stop Centre scheme

Launching One Stop Centres for women victims of violence in 2015, PM Modi said that it will bring positive change in their lives. Nine years later, several centres are yet to be established, existing centres are poorly funded, and those seeking help are victim-blamed.
One Stop Centres introduced by PM Modi's government in 2015
One Stop Centres introduced by PM Modi's government in 2015

This story is part of a series on gender called Gendered Polls released as part of our 2024 Lok Sabha elections coverage, curated by Sukanya Shaji.

Nine years after the first Narendra Modi government launched One Stop Centres (OSC) to support women victims of gender-based-violence, the Union government has set up 82.01% of the centres promised under the scheme. Introduced in 2015, OSCs aim to provide temporary accommodation for women who have been subjected to violence, including those under the age of 18. In addition to this, the women victims are given the required counselling and free medical and legal assistance. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, while launching the scheme in 2015, said that OSCs were meant to bring about a positive change in the lives of women. Though several centres have been established, a ground check shows that the existing centres and their staff suffer from inadequate funds and lack of training. Moreover, several victims of abuse who have sought help from OSCs in south India have alleged that they are meted out insensitive treatment. 

According to the Ministry of Women and Child Development (MWCD), 833 centres were to be established by 2023-24 and 923 by 2024-2025. However, the funds to set up the centres have remained inadequate since 2015. So far, 757 centres are functional. 

In Tamil Nadu, of the 48 centres approved by the Union government, 38 are operational. Among these, eight are operating from temporary buildings since the funds dispersed to construct centres were inadequate. In February 2024, while hearing a petition filed in the Madras High Court regarding the construction of OSCs in hospitals and police stations, Tamil Nadu’s Public Works Department (PWD) said that Rs 60 lakh each was received from the Union government for building the eight centres that are currently operating in temporary centres. The PWD told the court that the construction of each centre requires Rs 86.5 lakh. The HC directed the state government to coordinate with the necessary departments and complete the works before October 2024.

The delays in setting up approved OSCs is not an issue exclusive to Tamil Nadu. Similar delays have been noted in the southern states of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka as well. 

In Andhra Pradesh, only 13 of the 26 (one per district) approved centres have been set up, due to the alleged lack of funds. When Andhra Pradesh MP Vallabhaneni Balashwory questioned the delay in setting up centres, the Union Ministry for Women and Child Development (MCWD) replied, “The Ministry is regularly monitoring and reviewing the status of One Stop Centres with state/UT governments for operationalisation of such centres at the earliest.” 

Meanwhile in Karnataka, only 32 centres are operational against the approved 40.

The inadequacy of funds for the OSC scheme has given rise to several issues across centres in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. They include not providing vehicles for OSC staff engaged in rescuing victims. A government source told TNM, “Vehicles are not there in several districts. The staff can hire a vehicle if they need to, but that causes delays. When they receive a distress call, these people will have to hire a vehicle, wait for it to come pick them up, and then go.” According to the source, several staff members travel by public transport to rescue victims. 

OSC workers from Andhra Pradesh told TNM that their travel allowance is not paid regularly. “If it is a Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) case, we have to take the victims to hospitals, to the Child Welfare Committee, to courts, etc. By not paying us, the government is not motivating us to work,” said Shahnaz Sheikh, OSC administrator of Sri Potti Sriramulu Nellore district. She added that a dedicated vehicle would also increase faith among the public. 

An OSC administrator from Viziangaram said that they rely on police vans or the 108 ambulances for rescue operations during the night. “We travel there by bus or auto during the day. We often work in tandem with child helpline personnel regarding child-related emergencies. I make sure to use 108 or the police services at night.” 

The Telangana government, on the other hand, had allotted a vehicle for each OSC throughout the state to ensure quick rescue response, since the inception of the scheme. 

In September 2022, the MWCD issued new guidelines, after which the monthly allocation for individual OSCs went up from Rs 2 lakh to Rs 2.35 lakh and a Single Nodal Account (SNA) was created to disburse funds upon receiving utilisation certificates. Although the SNA model was introduced with the intention of facilitating timely release of funds, the funds for Andhra’s OSCs have not been disbursed yet. This, OSC workers from Visakhapatnam said, is despite each centre’s administrators having sent multiple requests for the same. 

“Our salary was credited 18 months after SNA was introduced. Electricity and internet bills were pending for more than a year. We had to request the electricity department and internet provider to not cut off the connection,” Shahnaz said. 

Another OSC administrator told TNM that she paid the electricity and internet bills of the centre out of her pocket and was later reimbursed after the monthly fund was released. “I had to run the centre by any means. Even though salaries were not credited, I paid the bills from my savings.” 

She added that travel bills are also not reimbursed regularly. “The training sessions are often conducted in other cities, or even states, and we have to attend regularly. Those bills too are reimbursed only along with the salary.”  

Staff at Tamil Nadu’s OSCs told TNM that there have been no issues with their salaries for close to a year. Previously, in 2023, OSC staff from across the state had said that their salaries were delayed by six months. 

It may be noted that the OSC scheme is completely financed from the Nirbhaya fund, which was set up in 2013 for empowering women and ensuring their safety and security. Although the Union MCWD informed the Parliament that a total of Rs 867.74 crores have been allocated for all the OSCs located across India since 2015, the Nirbhaya dashboard said that only about Rs 798.81 crores were released and Rs 339 crores were utilised. That is, while 92.05% of allocated funds have been released, only 42.4% of released funds have been utilised. 

In 2021, the government announced that it would go global with the scheme. It was proposed that 10 OSCs would be set up in nine countries – UAE, Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia (Jeddah and Riyadh), Australia, Singapore, and Canada. This was meant to assist Indian women in these countries in matters relating to marital disputes and other instances of violence.  Each centre was to be set up at a cost of Rs 8.07 crore (one time) and thereafter be allocated Rs 7.53 crore per annum for a period of five years. However, this seems to have seen no progress as no funds were released according to the data available on Nirbhaya funds dashboard.

Other projects under Nirbhaya fund

OSC is, however, not the only scheme financed by the Nirbhaya fund that is suffering from poor funding. Similarly stalled was Project Abhaya that was rolled out in Andhra Pradesh in 2018. Abhaya is an internet-of-things-based system for women to share the details of the transport vehicle (autos or taxis), driver, origin and destination, the location of vehicle, etc. with a trusted person in real time. In case of any emergency, route diversion, or safety threat, a panic button can be pressed and the distress call will be taken up by the police seamlessly and the vehicle tracked on a real time basis. The fund allocation for Project Abhaya is Rs 138.49 crore for implementation by March, 2018. According to the Nirbhaya dashboard, the funds released are Rs 58.6 crore, of which Rs 7.7 crore has been utilised. That is, while 58.6% of allocated funds were released, only a mere 13.1% of released funds have been utilised.

Responding to questions in Parliament about the use of Nirbhaya funds on February 2 this year, MWCD Minister Smriti Irani stated that from the programme's launch in 2013 to 2023-2024, a total of Rs 7,212.85 crore has been allotted, of which 75% (Rs 5,448.0945 crore) has been used. She added that because of the “staggered implementation schedule” and states’ delay in filing of Statement of Expenditure (SOE) and Utilisation Certificate (UC), it is possible that more funds were utilised than was recorded. 

While schemes such as Abhaya and OSC lack funds, huge amounts from the Nirbhaya fund have been put towards installation of lights and CCTV cameras. One such scheme that got a substantial allocation is the Safe City Projects, which received a share of about Rs 1,400 crores. However, it was not made clear what part of this came from the Union government’s Nirbhaya fund, as 40% of the total project cost is to be borne by the state government.

For instance, in a single year in 2022, Rs 33 crores from the Nirbhaya fund was used to install lights in Tamil Nadu’s capital city Chennai to make the city safer. On the other hand, in the five years between 2017 and 2022, OSCs in the entire state of Tamil Nadu have been allocated only Rs 34.79 crore for administering services.

Reacting to this, Jayaram, the convenor of the Chennai-based anti-corruption NGO Arappor Iyakkam, said, “The government has been spending more money on product-based requirements and not on process-based requirements. For installing lights, the government will float a tender and select a service provider. From there, there is a higher chance of the officers making money. But the same is not applicable in a process-based requirement like the One Stop Centres. There, everything has to be accounted for and a utilisation certificate has to be submitted.” 

Meanwhile, in Telangana, Rs 26.71 crore was allocated for CCTV installation under the three commissionerates Rachakonda,Cyberabad, and Hyderabad, as per an RTI response sought by Hyderabad based RTI activist Kareem Ansari.

Safety of OSC staff overlooked

Even though the scheme says that police vehicles, including Police Control Room (PCR) vans, can be used for rescuing victims, the police don’t always aid the staff, according to OSC staff from both Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. Shahnaz said, “We had once gone to rescue a woman at midnight. She was subjected to domestic violence. To reach the spot, we hired a taxi because the police refused to take us with them. They used their van and reached the spot and we were left to travel by ourselves. Our staff was scared and I had to motivate them.” Shahnaz added that the OSC workers are trained to handle situations at the spot but the staff are often worried of their safety while travelling. 

An OSC worker told TNM that when working on high profile cases, they have faced threats. “Sometimes, in cases related to politicians, we get threat calls. In a few cases, the victims’ husbands call us and use abusive language. Still, we go ahead and do what we have to do with the support of local police.”

Another government source from Tamil Nadu told TNM that OSC staff have been instructed to take the  police’s help only if needed. However, if the rescue operations are to be conducted at night, the police will have to accompany the staff. 

There have also been cases where the staff have had to rescue victims who were mistreated by their influential families, in terms of caste, wealth, or other reasons. The staff would be unaware of their influence until they had attempted to rescue the women. “Under such circumstances, the staff, who are also all women, need some protection even if the rescue operation is happening during the day time. This mechanism is amiss since there is no mandate for the police to accompany them for all rescue operations,” a source said. 

Victim-blaming in Tamil Nadu OSCs

TNM found that several OSCs from across districts in Tamil Nadu are not sensitised to handle the kind of cases that come to them. It was also learned that the staff often resort to victim-blaming. 

A victim, who was recently admitted to an OSC in Virudhunagar district after her parents physically abused her, was not allowed to speak to her friends and was forced to meet with her abusive parents, a source close to the victim said. “This was despite her having actively told the staff that she wanted to speak to her friends. In the name of counselling, the senior counsellor told her that it is natural for parents to beat her if she did something wrong and that parents are more important than friends. It didn’t feel like a feminist intervention,” the source added. The victim was eventually forced to reconcile with her family.

A person involved in similar rescue and rehabilitation efforts said, “Many OSCs in Tamil Nadu function with this protectionist attitude wherein they stand by their view of the parents being right. Such issues have been reported from OSCs even in Chennai city. Victims have been yelled at and blamed for their situation by some OSC staff.” However, they believe that such issues arise mainly because the staff are not given adequate training and resources to equip themselves. 

A government source said that OSC staff are made to regularly attend awareness programmes on issues such as child marriage and bonded labour, where the laws around these social evils are highlighted. Even though the training does not contain a module on sensitivity towards victims, they said that it is always one of the take-aways.

A centre administrator from Telangana also said that through counselling offered by the OSCs, the women and their family members are made to reconcile. “We cannot tell the woman to leave her family. She has to let us know her decision after she is made aware of all the options she has. Sometimes women themselves realise and go back to their family for the sake of the children or the family’s reputation.”

They added that OSC services are being availed increasingly by women between 40-60 years. “Women are realising there is infrastructure now. They come here and take shelter at the centre.” 

New guidelines causes resource crunch in Andhra Pradesh

According to the MWCD’s latest guidelines released in 2022, the number of staff per OSC was reduced from 18 to 13. However, a number of staff members had by then quit their jobs. In some districts, the government had transferred the staff to other departments or posted in newly established OSCs. The reduction in staff strength led to increased workload for those remaining. 

A centre administrator from an Andhra OSC stated that shift rotation has become challenging now. "A case worker must work longer if there is a case. It was simpler when there were three paramedical staff members and three case workers because the work was 24/7. An OSC is now only allowed to have two each.”

In Telangana too, where OSCs are managed by support agencies, which are in most cases NGOs, similar concerns were raised. Isidore Philip, who is the director of Divya Disha, the NGO that manages the OSC located in Hyderabad, told TNM that the new guidelines have put staff members under pressure. “Earlier, there were two psychosocial counsellors, but now, there is only one. In a city like Hyderabad, it becomes extremely difficult to manage the cases without adequate staff. The other staff members like centre administrator and paramedical staff are not compensated well. As support agencies, we are responsible to retain them and it is difficult,” he said. 

Philip added that due to delay in release of funds, support agencies are forced to pay the staff out of their pockets. “Sometimes the state supports us a little. Something is better than nothing at all when it comes to managing the centre. It gives us the assurance to continue the work.”

When TNM visited the two OSCs located in Chennai – one in north Chennai’s Tondiarpet and the other in south Chennai’s Tambaram – the required number of staff members were not present. Tamil Nadu has 13 staff members in each centre, including a centre administrator, an IT administrator, and a senior counsellor, who will all work from morning to evening throughout the week, followed by six case workers, two security guards, and two multi-purpose workers who will all work on shift basis and therefore be available at the centre 24/7.

Even though TNM visited the centres in both Tondiarpet and Tambaram during morning hours, the house administrators were not available at either of the centres. At the Tambaram centre, there was no security guard and only a senior counsellor and a multipurpose worker were available. The case workers and the IT admin, all of whom should be there 24/7 on shift basis, were unavailable. At Tondiarpet, only the IT admin and a case worker were available, while the others were unavailable.

Both the centres had no inmates at the time. “On some days, we will be running in full capacity while on some others, we won’t have any cases,” said one of the staff from the centres.

TNM reached out to the Social Welfare officers of Chennai North and South for comment but didn’t receive a response. 

The person engaged in similar rescue and rehabilitation who spoke to TNM said, “There are so many well-intentioned staff at OSCs who require the support of the government, in order to carry out their responsibilities to the fullest extent. Ensuring the safety of the staff, making sure that they are paid, and equipping them with all the required resources can be the first few steps to take.”  

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