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India Cabinet clears anti-rape bill
Publication Date : 15-03-2013
The Union Cabinet yesterday cleared the Criminal Laws (Amendment) Bill making it a stringent anti-rape law. It includes in its provisions lowering the age of consensual sex to 16 from 18 and stern punishment for offences like stalking.
The measures were recommended by the Group of Ministers or Cabinet headed by Finance Minister P Chidambaram.
The Bill, which is to replace the Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance, 2013, which was promulgated on February 3, saw differences within the Cabinet at a special meeting held on March 12. It was referred to the Cabinet, which gave its recommendations yesterday.
The Cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh yesterday also cleared the suggestion by the Cabinet that repeat offences of voyeurism, inappropriate touch, gesture and remarks be made non-bailable offences.
The Cabinet also decided to retain the term "rape" in the bill and treat it as gender-specific, instead of the proposal from some sections to make it gender-neutral.
The provisions seeking strong action against those filing false complaints were dropped from the bill, sources said, adding that there was consensus in the Cabinet that existing laws were adequate for dealing with such cases and it was only a matter of enforcing them.
The Ordinance has to be approved by Parliament before it goes into recess on March 22, failing which it would lapse on April 4.
Immediately after the December 16 Delhi gangrape and the public protests, the government set up a three-member committee headed by former Chief Justice of India J.S. Verma along with former Chief Justice of Himachal Pradesh High Court Leila Seth and former Solicitor General Gopal Subramaniam, which had given a 630-page report.
The ordinance promulgated by the government, surprisingly, overlooked some of the recommendations made by the Justice Verma committee and at the same time took a harsher stand on some.
Stalking and voyeurism were for the first time defined as criminal offences in the ordinance.
Some parties like the Samajwadi Party have serious reservations on certain provisions of the ordinance claiming they are prone to misuse.
The government has been criticised for the delays in managing consensus among its senior ministers. The Cabinet was divided over whether the bill should refer to the gender-neutral term of “sexual assault” or “rape"-it has decided on the latter, stating that sodomy will be addressed in a separate bill.
The Verma Committee recommended 20 years imprisonment for gangrape and life imprisonment for rape and murder but refrained from using the term “death penalty”. However, the anti-rape law to replace the ordinance passed by the Cabinet has gone in for harsher punishment--a minimum of 20 years imprisonment for rapists and even death penalty in extreme cases.
Among the various recommendations of the Verma Committee which have been rejected under the Criminal Law (Amendment) 2013, are criminalisation of marital rape, restriction of politicians facing sexual offence charges from contesting elections and senior police or Army officials to be held responsible for sexual offences committed by their juniors.
The Verma committee had received a massive 80,000 responses after the home ministry issued a public notice inviting suggestions to prevent crimes against women, from across India.