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Mukherjee approves death penalty in certain rape cases

Publication Date : 04-02-2013


Two days after it was cleared by the Union Cabinet, Indian President Pranab Mukherjee yesterday approved an ordinance on sexual violence against women under which rape that leads to the death of the victim can now attract death penalty.

“The President of India has accorded his assent to the Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance, 2013 [yesterday],” an official release said. A Home Ministry spokesperson also said the ordinance was approved by the president.

The Union Cabinet on Friday recommended the draft of the ordinance to the president for his assent in a bid to fast-track stringent amendments to the criminal laws to check crimes against women. The ordinance came less than three weeks before the start of the Budget Session of Parliament.

The ordinance, based on the recommendations of the Justice J S Verma Committee and going beyond, also proposes to replace the word "rape" with "sexual assault" to expand the definition of all types of sexual crimes against women.

The ordinance has evoked a mixed response with the Opposition BJP (Indian People's Party) welcoming it but the CPI-M (Communsit Party of India-Marxist) and several women's groups opposed it, attacking the government for doing “injustice” to the Verma Committee recommendations.

Being brought against the backdrop of the gangrape and brutal assault of a 23-year-old girl in Delhi in December that shook the country, the ordinance entails changes in the criminal law by amending the Indian Penal Code, Code of Criminal Procedure and the Evidence Act. It also proposes enhanced punishment for other crimes against women like stalking, voyeurism, acid attacks, indecent gestures like words and inappropriate touch and brings into its ambit "marital rape".

The Union Cabinet at the specially-convened meeting went beyond the Verma Committee's recommendation by providing for capital punishment in the cases where rape leads to death of the victim or leaves her in “persistent vegetative state”.

In such cases, the minimum punishment will be 20 years in jail which can be extended to the natural life of the convict or death, sources said, adding discretion will be with the court. After the Delhi gangrape incident, there were vociferous demands for death penalty, but the Verma Committee has not favoured it.

The government has rejected a recommendation of the Verma panel on the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act that no sanction would be required if the armed forces personnel are accused of a crime against a woman. In a bid to make the law women-friendly, the ordinance suggests that only a woman police officer will take the statement of the victim of the sexual crime.

Women under 18 years will not be confronted with the accused but provision of cross-examination has been retained. There will be no personal appearance of witnesses before police officers.
The IPC allows the court to impose a lower sentence. The ordinance takes away the power of the court to lower the sentence.

Penalty in terms of years in jail has been recommended for a government servant if he does not cooperate in sexual offence case or harms the process of law. The panel had recommended five years in jail.


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