In 2012, the Centre decided to merge two shelter based schemes – Swadhar and Short Stay Home – into the ‘Swadhar Greh’ scheme with improved financial regulations and also to extend the coverage to all districts in India during the 12th Five Year Plan. Reports suggest that the Ministry of Women and Child Development has been implementing both the schemes for offering emergency outreach services to women in problematic circumstances who do not have societal/family support or independent means of income. Under both the schemes free shelter, food, medical care, counseling are being offered to the beneficiaries. Moreover, vocational training is given to the beneficiaries for rehabilitating them. The scheme benefited 35959 women during 2009-10 and 38241 and 40270 women in 2010-11 and 2011-12. Under both the schemes, funds are released for implementing agencies which consist of State Government agencies and non-Governmental organisations (NGOs). Together, the scheme purports to address the specific vulnerability of each of group of women in difficult circumstances through a home-based holistic and integrated approach.
The objectives of the scheme include:
(i) To provide primary need of shelter, food, clothing and care to the marginalised; women/girls living in difficult circumstances who are without any social and economic support;
(ii) To provide emotional support and counseling to such women;
(iii) To rehabilitate them socially and economically through education, awareness, skill up gradation and personality development through behavioral training etc.;
(iv) To arrange for specific clinical, legal and other support for women/girls in need of those intervention by linking and networking with other organisations in both Government & Non-Government sector on case to case basis;
(v) To provide for help line or other facilities to such women in distress; and
(vi) To provide such other services as will be required for the support and rehabilitation to such women in distress.
The following shall be the target group beneficiaries of the scheme:
(i) Widows deserted by their families and relatives and left uncared near religious places where they are victims of exploitation;
(ii) Women prisoners released from jail and without family support:
(iii) Women survivors of natural disaster who have been rendered homeless and are without any social and economic support;
(iv) Trafficked women/girls rescued or runaway from brothels or other places or women/girl victims of sexual crimes who are disowned by family or who do not want to go back to respective family for various reasons;
(v) Women victims of terrorist/extremist violence who are without any family support and without any economic means for survival;
(vi) Mentally challenged women (except for the psychotic categories who require care in specialised environment in mental hospitals) who are without any support of family or relatives.
(vii) Women with HIV/AIDS deserted by their family or women who have lost their husband due to HIV/AIDS and are without social/economic support; or
(viii) Similarly placed women in difficult circumstances.
The implementing agencies can be the Social Welfare/ Women and Child Welfare Department of State Governments, Women’s Development Corporations, Urban Local Bodies, reputed Public/Private Trust or Voluntary Organisations who are willing to take up the responsibility of rehabilitating such women. The organisation must have adequate experience and expertise of taking up such works of rehabilitation.
The implementing organisations must fulfill the following eligibility conditions:
(a) The organisation should be registered under law and must have a properly constituted Managing Body with its powers, duties and responsibilities clearly defined and laid down in its Constitution;
(b) The organisation must not work for the profit of any individual or body of individuals;
(c) It should ordinarily have three years experience after its registration;
(d) Its financial position should be sound;
(e) It should have facilities, resources, experience and personnel to initiate the scheme for which assistance is sought.
Components of the Scheme
The scheme shall have the following main components:
(a) Assistance for construction of buildings for the Centre
(b) Rent for the shelter
(c) Assistance for the management of the Centre
(d) Provision for food, shelter and clothing for the women and their children below the age of 18 years
(e) Counselling for the women in difficult circumstances
(f) Clinical, legal and other support for women in difficult circumstances who are in
need of that intervention
(g) Training for the economic rehabilitation of such women
(h) Help line facilities for such women.
Monitoring of the Scheme
(i) Monitoring at District Level
(ii) Monitoring at the State Level
(iii) Monitoring at the Central Level.
Problems and Challenges
In a positive step, the budget for this scheme has been increased but it is patently microscopic in relation to the need and scale of the problem in the country. Both the merged schemes, since their individual inception, have reached out to relatively few beneficiaries, rendering them tokenistic. This needs to be changed. Further, the expenditure of the budgets allocated so far have also been low. It must also be borne in mind that the Planning Commission had noted that in relation to the Tenth Plan outlay for Swadhar that the “progress under the scheme is not satisfactory. Only 35 projects have been sanctioned so far and utilisation of funds has also not been up to mark. Such under-utilisation of funds defeats the objectives and concerns with which the scheme had been launched.” These lessons must be carefully applied in the 12th Plan outlays.
Similarly, the amounts for widow’s pensions are abysmally low and the actual coverage even worse. Some time ago, a study in Rajasthan had found almost 50 per cent of Below Poverty Line ( BPL ) widows to be widow non-pensioners. Moreover, the eligibility criteria of age restrictions and absence of sons (irrespective of whether they take care of their mothers) are often quite restrictive making it very difficult for women to access the scheme. The process of application can also be quite cumbersome with many bureaucratic hurdles, making it very difficult for single women to access these schemes. Often beneficiaries have to miss their entire day’s work (and hence wages) to travel to the panchayat and block offices to get what they are rightfully entitled to. The merged schemes are excellently conceived but obviously, the gaps between concepts and implementation must be removed quickly if the real benefits of the scheme are to flow to women in difficult circumstances.