House panel flags lack of women safety, mobile phone networks on highways

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Economic Times, March 20, 2022

A parliamentary panel on transport has pulled up the ministry for road transport and highways for not doing enough to ensure the safety of women on highways. It has said the government needed to work on installing proper signages, cell phone networks, streetlights, highway patrol at frequent distances to improve the safety of women and surveillance of crime on national highways and in public transport.

The ministry blamed the states for their inability to come up with a proper plan to implement schemes under the Nirbhaya framework. The Nirbhaya Fund is a corpus formed in the aftermath of the gangrape-murder of a young medical student in Delhi in December 2012. The corpus funds women’s safety schemes across ministries.

The tourism and transport parliamentary committee, headed by BJP MP TG Venkatesh, has raised concern over the reduction of budget meant for schemes related to women’s safety.

“The committee is of the view that ensuring such measures is not budget intensive and feels that there is an urgent, pressing need to ensure that these basic measures are enforced across the entire NH stretch. The committee strongly recommends that the ministry may conduct road safety audits across the entire stretch of NHs and ensure proper signages, streetlights and highway patrol. This would not only help women travelling on NHs feel safer, especially at night, but also boost the overall safety of road passengers. Signages should display helpline numbers for different emergencies in English, Hindi and in local languages,” one of the recommendations of the committee stated.

The panel has pointed out that “having no mobile network connectivity for extended stretches of NHs is a serious cause of concern since the same would mean issues would be faced in connecting to emergency services as well. While it is understood that the installation of cell towers is carried out by telecommunication companies on the basis of the number of users in the area, the committee feels that given the high volume of traffic plying on national highways across the country, many such stretches might be having sufficient demand from users for good internet connectivity”.

The committee said it was concerned about the “extremely low expenditure made under road transport with scheme on women safety on public road transport”.

In its response, the ministry said no separate proposal has been received from states for the public transport scheme under the Nirbhaya Framework. It stated that this was the reason behind the drastic reduction of 80% in the 2022-23 allocation of ₹20 crore under the head ‘Scheme on Women Safety on Public Road Transport’, against the budget of 2021-22 allocation of ₹100 crore.

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