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The National Commission for Women was constituted under the National Commission for Women Act, 1990 (NCW Act) on 31 January 1992 to exercise powers and perform functions assigned.
Writers of Independent India recognized the gender disparity between a man and a woman and thus established constitutional mechanisms to promote equality. Article 14 of the Constitution prohibits gender discrimination. Clause 3 of article 15 allows the government to make special provisions for women. Article 51 explicitly mandates citizens ‘to renounce practices which are derogatory to the dignity of women.’ Women still faced problems in education opportunities, employment opportunities, inheritance and divorce rights. Women still had a secondary status in society.
In 1971, the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women requested the Indian government to prepare a report on India’s women. The central government appointed the minister in charge of the department of social welfare to head the Commission on the Status of Women in India (CWSI). CWSI in its report noted the abysmal state of women in India and strongly criticized the central and state governments for their failures. It recommended the establishing follow up mechanisms and process to examine the issues identified in the report. It further advised the government to formulate a national policy on women’s development. More importantly, it asked for the creation of a statutory body to broadly ensure the development and protection of women.
In 1988, the National Perspective Plan of the Ministry of Human Resource Development recommended appointing a Commissioner for women’s issues. This proposal was met with resistance by women’s rights groups. Activists and groups demanded the creation of a National Commission that CWSI had recommended. In 1990, the central government after extensive consultation with various stakeholders decide to move forward with the Commission. A bill was placed in the parliament on May 22. However, concerns over the power and structure of the Commission resulted in its failure. A redrafted bill was introduced on August 10 and the National Commission for Women Act, 1990 was passed on August 30, 1990. It took a year and a half to establish the Commission. The first NCW started functioning on 31 January 1992, with Mrs Jayanti Patnaik as the chairperson.
STRUCTURE OF THE COMMISSION
The Act of 1990 under section 3 provides for the structure of the Commission. This section lays down that this Commission will consist of one chairperson, who is committed to the cause of women, five members from various fields a member secretary who shall be an expert in the fields of management, organizational structure, sociological movement or a member of the civil service of the Union. All the members of the Commission are nominated by the central government. Each person holds office for a period of five years or till one attains the age of seventy. At least one member must belong to the Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe.
FUNCTIONS OF THE COMMISSION
Following are the general overview of the functions of the Commission:
- To examine the constitutional and legal safeguards for women.
- To present the Central government annually reports on working of those safeguards.
- To take up cases of violation of the provisions of the constitution or any other laws affecting women and recommend amendments so as to provide legislative remedies.
- To inspect remand home, women’s institution where women are kept as prisoners or otherwise take up the concerned authority for remedial action, if necessary.
NOTEWORTHY WORK OF THE COMMISSION
Setting up of inquiry Commissions:
A number of inquiry Commissions have been established by the Commission under section 8 (1) of the Act to look into the matters of law and legislation, political empowerment, custodial justice for women, social security, Panchayati raj, women and media, development of scheduled tribe woman, development of women of weaker sections, development of women of minority communities, transfer of technology and agriculture for development of women. Among other highlights includes the anti-child marriage agitations in Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh. Public hearings on problems of Muslim women, the impact of globalization on women or land-related problems. Economic empowerment of tribal women has been successfully organized by the Commission all over the country.
The legal cell of the Commission has proposed many amendments to a number of acts and has proposed a number of bills. The Commission has proposed amendments to the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 and the Indian Penal Code, 1860. The Commission has also proposed bills such as the Marriage Bill, 1994, the Domestic Violence to Women (Prevention) bill, 1994. The bill Domestic Violence to Women (Prevention) has recently been passed
Parivarik Mahila Lok Adalats:
The National Commission for Women has evolved an innovative concept of Parivarik Lok Adalat (PMLA) which supplements the effort of District Legal Service Authority (DLSA) for redressal and speedy disposal of the matters related to the marriage and family affairs pending in various courts. PMLA functions on the model of Lok Adalats. The Commission provides for financial assistance to the NGOs or State Women Commissions or State Legal Service authority to organize the Parivarik Mahila Lok Adalat.
The objectives of Parivarik Mahila Lok Adalats are as follows:
- To provide speedy and cost-free dispensation of justice to women
- To generate awareness among the public regarding the conciliatory mode of dispute settlement
- To gear up the process of organizing Lok Adalats and to encourage the public to settle their disputes outside the formal set up.
- To empower especially women in justice delivery system.
OBSTACLES IN WORKING OF NCW
- The Commission has no legislative powers but to recommend amendments and submit reports which are not binding on the state or Union government.
- NCW members are appointed by the government and the Commission does not have the power to select its own members.
- It enjoys power only to recommend amendments and submit reports. The recommendations of the NCW are not binding on Union or state governments.
- The Commission’s jurisdiction is not operative in Jammu and Kashmir.
Considering the unrest and human right violations in Jammu and Kashmir region, the committee’s presence there is vital. The Commission should be given the power to select its own members. The state governments too should allocate funds to the Commission which would help in its functioning as of now only central government is allocating funds to the Commission.
By – Priyanka Chauhan
Government Law College, Mumbai
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