In the last two decades the concept of women empowerment had undergone a change from equity approach to welfare oriented approach. According to economist the concept of empowerment leads to a growing intrinsic capability and an inner transformation of one’s consciousness that enables one to overcome external barrier. Women empowerment is defined as a change in the context of a women’s life which enables her increased capacity for leading a fulfilling human life. Even today women empowerment is a debatable subject in developing countries. On may 7 2021 after swearing as TamilNadu Chief Minister M.K.Stalin announced a scheme that enables all working women in the state to travel free of cost in government owned city and town buses with immediate effect since there is no concrete definition for working women every women would qualify as a beneficiary in this scheme. The main objective of this scheme is to increase the work participation rate of women and to promote public transportation. After Punjab and delhi, TamilNadu has become the third state to announce free travel on buses operated by the state government. When the scheme run in power the transport minister announced more than 7.8 million women travelled free within three days including the transwomen 5,741, 51,615 differently able people & 8,396 generals travelled free in the corporation buses. This scheme not only attracted many women’s in the state but it also encouraged the change in the lives of women, it boosted the economy of the state and most importantly it benefitted the female students the most in rural part of TamilNadu.
HOW THIS SCHEME CHANGED THE LIVES OF PEOPLE
More than city corporations this scheme attracted the rural villages in Tamilnadu. For a daily wage labourers this scheme has not only a boon but also it is turned out as an savings economy. Women rider from kovilkulam in Tirunelveli district said, she travels 16km daily to reach a farm in kalathimadam village of Tenkasi district for work ever since this scheme run into power she saved about 1,550 and spent a portion of this money to purchase a second hand bicycle for his son. With the rest she used for household spendings. Not only the women riders benefits from this scheme it boosted the economy of the vendors in a large scale. one such example is the number of women who come to board buses has increased in tenkasi,kadayam and alangulam this in turn vendors who have shops near bus stands witnessed an increase in sales. The state corporation as per their objective more than 56.75 lakh women have availed this benefits in Tirunelveli district.
As per the data the percentage of working women population is low in tamilnadu the contribution of working women covers only 31.8% compare to men 59.3%. Increase in the work participation will enhance the growth of the economy, safe and secure travel in public transport facilitate their higher education needs and contribute economically which would uplift their socio-economic status and growth of the economy.
DISCRIMINATION IN RIDE
The public transport being made free the women can now travel across the length and breadth of the country especially women in the unorganized sector who are dissuaded from taking up jobs now availing this scheme large in number however Shreya Gadepalli South Asia Programme Lead Institute for Transportation and Development Policy stated that in early 2020 women bus commuters highlighted affordability and safety as their biggest concerns. Exapanding bus services with more bus stands is the need of the hour especially in rural part of tamilnadu. In rural villages reports of discrimination by conductor and drivers has become part of the ride. Ever since government announced this scheme men conductors use harsh and rude words to women commuters most deliberately the drivers doesn’t stop the bus in each destination and knowingly they drag the women commuters into argument. The discrimination mostly faced by the old age women and working women.
CONSTITUTIONALITY OF FREE PUBLIC TRANSPORT
Ever since free public transport scheme run in power there have been petitions filed in supreme court regarding the constitutional validity of the scheme. Some considered this scheme as unconstitutional, arbitrary, illegal and discriminatory in nature but the bench composed by chief justice DN Patel and Justice C. Hari shankar dismissed the petition on certain grounds. Article 14 of the constitution states ” every person is entitled to equality before the law and equal protection of the law and the states cannot deny it” followed by the principles Intelligible differentia & Rational nexus, in the differentiation between men and women, women are unsafe and have less access to resources as compared to men. The interpretation of equality under article 14 allows for differential treatment of different classes of citizens and the basis of law designed with the the objective of positive discrimination. Under Article 15 there should be no discrimination on the basis of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them. In clause 3 it mentioned state can make any special provision for women and children and this will not be subject to any provision contained in this section. Under article 15 state has the power to create provision for women and children also in several cases supreme court has upheld the law though it discriminates between men and women for eg. Girdhar v state(1952).
This short term measure is a promising scheme with large benefits it promises the changing aspect of access and mobility the path to reformation and emancipation isn’t linear. The socio political debate on certain state introduced schemes are now a days very common dilemma but the basis of ideas lies in the constitutional understanding of equality. “When the snow fall and the white minds blow, the lone wolf dies, but the pack survives” make opportunities to people irrespective of socio political aspect and boost the economy.