The Supreme Court on Wednesday slapped fines on eight state governments and pulled them up for “not bothering” about the welfare of widows and destitute women by not heeding to the Centre’s proposal for setting up an expert committee to deal with the problem.
A bench of Justices Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta also suggested that the centre should consider framing “one proper and first class” composite scheme by merging a plethora of existing ones, which was accepted by the government.
“If they (states) do not want to do it, they will not do this. If they are not bothered about women of their own state, then what should we do. There are issues raised about gender justice, but they are not bothered. They do not want to do anything,” a seemingly anguished bench said.
The top court imposed a fine of Rs 50,000 each on Andhra Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Karnataka and Odisha and directed them to deposit it within four weeks with the Supreme Court Legal Services Committee for utilisation in issues related to juvenile justice.
It also slapped a cost of Rs 25,000 each on Maharashtra, West Bengal, Punjab and Uttarakhand for giving “incomplete information” to the Ministry of Women and Child Development.
During the hearing, the court asked Additional Solicitor General (ASG) ANS Nadkarni, representing the ministry, about the issue of convergence of several schemes for destitute women and widows.
“Instead of having so many schemes, why don’t you have one proper and first-class scheme? Why are there so many schemes,” the bench asked the ASG.
Nadkarni agreed with the issue raised by the bench and said there should be a single composite scheme.
“In our view and the ASG agrees that it may be appropriate if one composite scheme is framed taking the best from all the schemes that are available,” the bench noted in its order and asked the ministry to take initiative in this regard.
The counsel appearing for National Commission for Women (NCW) told the bench that they would extend full support to the ministry on convergence of the schemes.
The bench also dealt with the issue related to temples across the country giving flowers offered by devotees to shelter homes for widows and destitute women for making of perfume, coloured powder or incense sticks to enable them to earn a livelihood.
The top court was informed that only a few states have responded on the issue and the ministry and NCW would take up the matter with other states.
The counsel for Uttar Pradesh told the court that steps have been initiated by the state for carrying out plastering and other repairs in widow homes there.
The court posted the matter for hearing on July 31.
On February 7, the top court had observed that state authorities did not appear to be interested in the welfare of widows and stressed on the need for a combined effort to improve their condition.
The top court had earlier taken note of the “pathetic” condition of widows after a plea was filed in 2007 highlighting how they lived in welfare homes in Vrindavan.
It had referred to various reports filed by the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA), District Legal Services Authority and NCW on the condition of shelter homes for widows in Vrindavan.
One of the reports had said there was lack of proper toilets and bathrooms in the shelter homes, besides poor water and electricity facilities.