New Delhi: Women and child development minister Maneka Gandhi on Tuesday welcomed the government move mandating a so-called panic button in all mobile phones.

Calling it a “game changer," Gandhi told media persons outside the parliament, “When I came to the ministry, there were proposals that women should wear a necklace (with an inbuilt device pressing which could trigger an alarm). So, we thought that it is best to have the panic button on the phone. Even in rural areas, women have phones now."

According to the Panic Button and Global Positioning System in Mobile Phone Handsets Rules 2016, all feature phones in sold in India from January 2017 must have a panic button configured to the numeric key 5 or 9 and all smartphones will have the panic button configured to three times short pressing of the power button. Pressing the button will alert the police as well as the friends or relatives of the women as listed by her.

Besides, starting 2018, all mobile phones should also have GPS system to identify the location.

The women and child development ministry has been working on installing a panic button in all mobile phones since June 2014.

Analysts said that though it is a welcome step, installing a panic button is just the first step and the entire response mechanism needs to function properly for the button to be effective.

“There are several apps available in the market which provide similar facilities but they have not really translated into safer spaces for women as the police still needs to be properly roped into the system. However, the government’s involvement along with the availability of this button to feature phones as well is a big positive," said Kalpana Viswanath of Jagori, a Delhi-based non-governmental organization that has worked extensively in the field of public spaces

“Despite this development, the major focus still has to be on the prevention of such incidents in the first place," she added.

As for existing mobile phones, the ministry and the telecom department will work to ensure that similar features are also available for existing handsets in the form of software patches by which same buttons can be configured to send out emergency calls.

These software patches will be made available for direct download for smartphones while installation will be provided at mobile phone shops for feature phones by the concerned service providers.

According to the National Crime Records Bureau’s data, a total of 3,37,922 cases of crime against women—both under various sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and Special and Local Laws (SLL) —were reported in 2014 compared to 3,09,546 cases in 2013, an increase of 9.2%.

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