Manodhairya Yojana change means longer wait for victims of rape to access financial aid in Maharashtra

Manodhairya Yojana change means longer wait for victims of rape to access financial aid in Maharashtra

Mumbai,August3:Changes to the Manodhairya Yojana formalised this week could entail a longer wait for victims of rape to access financial aid promised by the state. The Manodhairya Yojana is a Maharashtra government scheme for monetary compensation to victims of rape, child sexual abuse and acid attacks. While the new rules include an increase in the maximum compensation paid, from Rs 3 lakh to Rs 10 lakh, rape victims will now not get any part of the compensation sum until the investigating police team submits, to a district-level state government official, a copy of the first information report (FIR) as well as a medical report on the victim and a statement by the victim to a magistrate recorded under Section 164 of the Criminal Procedure Code.

On August 1, a new GR on Manodhairya was issued by the state government after directions from the Bombay High Court on increasing compensation. The GR also included wide-ranging changes in the implementation of the scheme.

Lawyers and activists working with rape and acid attack survivors were dismayed by the imposition of additional conditions. “The Manodhairya scheme has been severely criticised precisely on this issue of not paying compensation at the stage of FIR. Once an FIR is registered, it is a clear indication that there is a prima facie case. That is the stage at which the victim needs the money most,” said senior advocate Indira Jaising, the amicus curiae of the Supreme Court on petitions relating to women’s safety and victim compensation schemes.

Other legal experts add that due to overburdened magistrates, the recording of statement under the CrPC could be delayed by months. Moreover, under criminal law, the victim’s statement to a magistrate is a confidential document not accessed even by the police till permitted by the trial court. Allowing compensation to be paid only after the judicial officer of the legal services authority peruses the victim’s statement to a magistrate would inevitably mean further delays.

The previous GR of 2013 on the Manodhairya scheme stated that after an FIR is registered under Section 376 of the Indian Penal Code, under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act and in acid attack cases, the local police would intimate the district collector and officer at the district-level Women and Child Development (WCD) office. According to the original provisions of the scheme, this would have to be done within an hour of the complaint being registered, via an SMS or email if necessary. A six-member District Criminal Injuries Relief and Rehabilitation Board headed by the district collector was then expected to convene a meeting to decide on the compensation sum to be granted. The process was to be initiated upon the filing of the FIR, without awaiting other documents. Police officials say the current practice is to send a copy of the FIR along with a medical report within 24 hours to the district WCD office.

This district-level board that peruses cases is now completely done away with under the new GR, with the compensation scheme to now be implemented by the District Legal Services Authority or the Maharashtra State Legal Services Authority, a pattern followed in some other states. A senior state government bureaucrat said this decision was taken as judicial officers are better equipped to assess the FIR, medical report and the victim’s statement while deciding on the compensation sum. “Usually, what the victim says before the magistrate is the most accurate. We would know the exact circumstances of the offence through the statement to decide the extent and urgency of granting compensation,” said the senior official. In cases of severe physical injuries, there is a provision for immediate help as well, the official added.

In addition, the new GR specifies that the submission of required documents by the victim must be time-bound, and in cases where such paperwork is not completed within three months, the compensation would have to be returned. This three-month period will also apply to cases where the victim cannot be traced by authorities. “There are times when the victim changes her residence after the incident. We have had instances where the police told us that they could not trace the victim for her deposition in court, but we eventually managed to. Who will verify that the police have made enough efforts to look for the victim or why the paperwork has not been completed?” said Persis Sidhva, advocate with NGO Majlis Legal Centre, which has a victim support programme named Rahat working in the special POCSO courts in Mumbai.

Sidhva added that the new GR is silent on other rehabilitation needs of the victim, including counselling and legal assistance.

Other changes in the GR include provision to recover compensation in some cases. In cases where a victim alleged rape on the pretext of marriage, the full compensation will be paid only if the case ends in a conviction. If such a victim turns hostile during the trial, or if such a case ends in an out-of-court settlement, the 25 per cent compensation granted earlier will be recovered. In addition, in all cases, 75 per cent of the compensation will be kept in a fixed deposit for 10 years, a measure that lawyers say will deny victims the chance to use the compensation at the time of maximum need.

“The whole Manodhairya scheme evolved as a victim-centric theme. The effort should be that the victim is given relief at the earliest,” said Ujjwal Uke, a senior bureaucrat and former principal secretary of the WCD department when the scheme had been launched in 2013.