HC Chides SWD for ‘Lengthy’ Procedure In Availing SMAS Benefits by Poor-girls

Srinagar: The Jammu and Kashmir High Court on Monday chided the state’s Social Welfare Department over “lengthy procedure” in availing the benefits of State Marriage Assistance Scheme (SMAS) by the poor girls in the state.   

Hearing a suo-moto Public Interest Litigation, a division bench of Chief Justice Badar Durrez Ahmed and Ali Mohammad Magrey also directed District Social Welfare Officers of Srinagar and Bandipora to keep record along them on next date of hearing so as to check the implementation of SMAS as well as Hunar, a skill development programme for the girls living below poverty line. 

“Directions given by us have not been complied with. The affidavit filed is not in conformity with the directions,” the court said, observing that instead of modifying the format for availing the SMAS benefits, the Secretary SWD talks about constitution of Village Level Councils  for certifying verity the credentials of the beneficiaries.

“There is no such requirement required as only date of marriage supported by an affidavit is required to be submitted by the beneficiary before the District Social Welfare Officer of concerned district and not before the Village Level Councils as they are not part of the scheme,” the court said. 

By virtue of the order on 13 June last year, several provisions of the SMAS for poor girls were interpreted by the court  and it was ordered that information sought at sr.no.8 of Form-I of the Scheme with regard to date of marriage and documentary evidence would not be necessary where such documentary evidence was not available. 

The court had further ordered that where the date of marriage was not fixed but marriage was imminent, the beneficiary should file an affidavit stating that her marriage has been fixed but the date has not been set and that in the absence of any documentary evidence available with her, the affidavit would suffice. 

Form-I and, in particular, serial no.8 was to be modified accordingly and the SWD was to indicate as to whether the form has been modified or not and, if not, it was ordered to done within a week on June 18. 

Unimpressed by the response, the division bench told counsel, representing SWD, that if the department was unable to understand the court language “then get the Commissioner Secretary (SWD) here, we will make him understand.”

 “Seek information about the previous order from the department otherwise you are in contempt”, the court added. 

It underlined that the authorities have not understood the purpose and spirit of the schemes launched by the Government for the poor girls and directed all the District Social Welfare officers of Srinagar and Bandipora, on first instance, to get the records available before the court on next date.

On previous date of hearing, the court had directed the SWD to indicate the number of girls in each district who have been given the benefit of SMAS from its inception till date. 

The SWD was also directed to also indicate the number of applications received in Form-I under the SMAS. 

“It shall thereafter indicate how many of those applications have been allowed and benefits given, how many have been rejected and how many are pending. The respondents shall also indicate the average time taken between receipt of the applications and decisions on those applications and also the average time already elapsed in so far as pending applications are concerned,” the court had said, adding that in future, the authorities should strictly comply with the time line prescribed in the court’s order dated 13 June 2016 of deciding the application within one week and, where the decision is in favour of the beneficiary, of disbursing the amount within one week thereafter. 

On July 18 this year, the court also ordered the SWD should strictly comply with the time line prescribed in the its order of 13 June 2016 by deciding the application within one week and, where the decision was in favour of the beneficiary, of disbursing the amount within one week thereafter. 

The court also directed the government to also indicate whether a corpus fund as required under the SMAS has been established and whether wide publicity has been given to it so that philanthropists can also make contributions to the corpus fund. 

“The (government) shall also indicate very clearly as to whether there is any specific corpus account whereby persons can transfer funds directly to the corpus fund without requiring any further formalities. The (government) shall also indicate as to what steps have been taken to create awareness of the scheme amongst the beneficiaries and whether the Form-I which is the only mode for applying under the scheme is readily available at all district centres so that the intending beneficiaries may apply for and avail of the benefits under the scheme.” Similar details shall also be provided for Hunar Scheme, the court said. 

The schemes were launched on the directions by the court in order to enable the poor girls live a dignified life and prevent their exploitation. 

The PIL was initially a petition, seeking quashing of PSA order at the pre-execution stage against one Mohammad Amin Beigh, a resident of Kulgam in south Kashmir.

Beigh—who was running a private security agency— was ordered to be detained under the PSA by District Magistrate Srinagar on December 26, 2011 for indulging in immoral activities including physically exploiting poor girls as well as ‘supplying’ them to others.

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