NCW Chairperson Mamta Sharma said the state government has promised "neutral" investigations in all cases related to crime against women but they are still waiting to see if the promises are being kept. "Incidents of crime against women in West Bengal had been gradually on the rise, but the state has witnessed a sudden huge spurt in offences against women under the present government, especially in the last couple of months," Sharma said.
She said a recent NCW report had showed that increase in reported rape cases in the state was twice the national average. However, she hastened to add that she was "not saying that the state is unsafe for women under Mamata Banerjee".
A three-member NCW team led by member Wansuk Syeim had visited the state last month and in their report took exception to transfers of officers investigating rape cases besides demanding a "neutral" investigation and financial and other assistance to rape victims.
The Commission noted with "dismay" the transfer of two key officers involved in investigations of Park Street gang rape case and Bankura case "for reasons best known to the state government". Banerjee had raked up a controversy after she said a rape case was "cooked up to malign" her government. Drawing government's attention to the issue, the report quoted an NGO 'Maitree' to point out that the state recorded the "second highest number of rape cases in the country and it had the lowest conviction rate".
"The findings are shocking. But the alarming statistics are not exclusive to West Bengal alone. Our fact-finding teams have come across a large number of cases in Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh as well," Sharma claimed.
The NCW was closely monitoring the way various states handle cases of violence against women, she said, adding that the Commission would pull up any state if it is found "callous and insensitive" when it comes to treating women.
Quoting the NGO, the NCW report said the criminals were not sparing either a girl aged seven or elderly women over 70. The victims include housewives, working women, mentally and physically challenged women and tribal women.
"In 44 per cent of gangrapes, 39 per cent victims were minor girls, while 17 per cent were mentally/ physically challenged. Eight per cent of rapes happened in hospitals or trains. The accused are still absconding in 44 per cent of cases," it said.
"In 17 per cent cases, women's characters or the veracity of cases were publicly questioned," the report said. In its observations, the NCW team that went to Bengal said the high incidents of crimes coupled with a set of unpreparedness among the officers at the level of public contact would actually make the crime nearly a risk-free business for criminals.
"The NCW would like to request that investigation into the cases under reference should be conducted neutrally so as to ensure conviction and maximum punishment for the accused in each case," it said. It also noted that investigators should take ample care to complete the entire probe in a time-bound manner. "The routine procedural delays should be avoided. Before transferring the investigating officer to another posting, it is necessary that the same officer should help the judicial proceedings in presenting the case on behalf of prosecution," the report said.