(Mint file)
(Mint file)

Supreme Court, Delhi HC bring women safety back on national agenda

  • The Supreme Court has asked the Centre to consider passing regulations on taxi aggregators such as Ola and Uber to ensure better safety for women
  • The Centre and states should work together in not just providing close-circuit television camera, but safety guards and other mechanism as well

New Delhi: The Supreme Court and the Delhi High Court together have put the issue of women’s safety, especially in the metropolis of Delhi, back on national agenda. The Supreme Court has asked the Centre to consider passing regulations on app-based taxi aggregator services such as Ola and Uber to ensure better safety for women.

Meanwhile, the Delhi High Court has also directed the authorities, including Delhi Police and the Aam Aadmi Party government, to prepare an action plan to make the national capital "crime free for women".

"Very welcomed directions from both the courts. The taxi aggregators in spite of claiming safety councils pay no attention when untoward incidents occur. They skirt around the law, most of the times. Criminal activities against woman are happening all across the Delhi. Protection mechanism is missing from all sorts of transport; may it be public or these application based taxi services," Ranjana Kumari, a renowned social activist and director at Centre for Social Research told Mint.

The state and central government both should work together in not just providing close-circuit television camera, but safety guards and other mechanism should be in place, Kumari added.

On 31 July, a bench of the apex court headed by Justice S A Bobde and comprising Justices R Subhash Reddy and B R Gavai heard a plea seeing one-stop crises centres for women. During the hearing, the issue of safety and security of women while availing app-based taxi services also came up.

Senior advocate Indira Jaising made submissions saying that app-based taxi services were intermediaries as per the Information Technology Act and hence not governed by Motor Vehicles Act. “They are functioning in a vacuum," Jaising had said.

The counsel for the Centre had then said that such an issue will require an amending the law. "And who can do that, you have to do it," replied Bobde.

On hearing the submissions on the absence of a law to regulate such services, the apex court asked the central government to consider bringing a law to regulate app-based taxi service providers like Ola and Uber to ensure safety and security of women passengers. The petitioner, Nipun Saxena, who filed the plea in the aftermath of the December 2012 gangrape case has been directed to make representations to the Centre.

The Centre has been given four weeks’ time to reply on these representations.

“I feel it's important for the Centre to hold the app-based cab services accountable to ensure women's safety. There have been several cases of sexual harassment lately and when these cases happen, these companies don't take any strict action against the drivers. They either brush off the responsibility or max they do is fire the driver. Therefore, the law to regulate these cab services will be an important step to act as a deterrent," Rasika Verma, fellow at The Gender Lab told Mint.

The Delhi High Court, concerned about women safety, also raised questions to Delhi police. “Why can't Delhi be safe for women like Mumbai? In Mumbai, women can walk freely in night, why can't it happen in Delhi. Where are we going wrong? We have the best resources and officers in Delhi, where are things going wrong. So much of Nirbhaya fund is unutilized. Some of this fund can actually be used for street lighting. You may find it difficult to put a Constable in each colony; you can put a security guard. You have ample resources," a bench of the court asked.

The Delhi Police agreed that funds meant for safety and security of women should be utilized for installing CCTV cameras and street lights. The court then directed the Delhi Police and the AAP government to immediately formulate an action plan. It also asked the chief secretary to conduct meetings with all stakeholders.

"…All women need is equal access to public spaces and services, which means there are disciplined systems for us in times of need. Like adequate street lights, increased and regular police patrolling in areas where violence rate is reportedly high. Delhi metro has only one coach reserved for women and because of that even if I feel unsafe I am forced to travel in a general compartment. Safety also has to do a lot with our daily behaviour and perceptions & no gender should feel afraid of any other and should not be needed to be protected. Till that happens, starting with promising support systems will give us the confidence to step out every day, without feeling too scared," said Anupama Ray, City Lead Delhi-NCR, The Gender Lab.

“Women's right to mobility and access to public space has always been restricted. In recent times, women from different spheres of society are challenging patriarchy and claiming their right to public spaces. In this context, it is crucial that app-based taxi services, which are slowly becoming one of the most preferred ways of travelling in cities, introduce policies to ensure maximum security for their women passenger, " said Adrita Roy, Consultant at Society for Elimination of Rural Poverty, Andhra Pradesh.

With the Supreme Court and the Delhi High court coming together on passing directions and orders on women’s safety, the ball is now in the government’s court. As such it remains to be seen how soon an action plan is implemented.

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