New Delhi: The Congress party is aggresively publicising its efforts to put in a place a stringent law against sex crimes and improve the safety of women as it seeks to lure a section of the country’s demographic that constitutes almost half of the electorate and often vote in larger numbers than men.
President Pranab Mukherjee promulgated the Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance on Sunday to amend the Indian Penal Code, Code of Criminal Procedure 1973 and Evidence Act 1872 to provide death penalty in case of a rape followed by injury that causes death or leaves the victim in a persistent vegetative state.
Ministers have defended the promulgation of the ordinance by saying that the step will act as an immediate deterrent for criminals, after being criticised by some political opponents and activists for not fully accepting Justice J.S. Verma recommendations
“People wanted instant justice and the government acted in a short span of time. It will definitely send a positive message in favour of the government because they have acted immediately before the other electoral issues come and overtake this issue,” said B.G Verghese, political analyst and visiting professor at the Centre for Policy Research.
On Monday, finance minister P. Chidambaram, who also heads a committee of group of ministers on media, and information broadcasting minister Manish Tewari said the ordinance has provisions incorporated from a proposed law to amend the criminal procedure code, which is currently being examined by a parliamentary standing committee, and the recommendations of the Verma committee report.
A three-member committee headed by former judge J.S. Verma was formed after a brutal sexual assault on a 23-year-old physiotherapy student on a moving bus in the national capital last month. The assault and the subsequent death of the victim had stoked protests across the country. The Verma committee submitted its report to the government last week.
“We have not rejected any recommendation of the justice Verma committee. The correct position is that some recommendations of the justice Verma committee have not been incorporated in the ordinance because of divergence of opinion on the issues. These issues require more consultations and deliberations,” Chidambaram told reporters.
For instance, the government has agreed on death as the maximum punishment in the case of a second conviction for the offence of sexual assault or aggravated sexual assault but it refused to include issues like marital rape. The government did not agree on bringing changes to the Juvenile Justice Act and the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act.
“The Juvenile Justice Act is a separate law. Whether the age should be reduced, whether it should reduced for certain kinds of offences, what you call heinous offences, is a matter that has to be considered very carefully and within the permissible limits of the constitution,“ Chidambaram said, adding that he would impress upon the ministries of home and women and child development to come out with amendments to the Juvenile Act as soon as possible. He said the constitution does not permit applying stringent provisions of law on the accused minor.
Tewari said the ordinance was brought on those issues having the “broadest consensus”.
“The advantage of an ordinance is that it will amend the criminals laws immediately. On the other hand, if we take the route of a Bill, the changes to the law will take effect only upon the passing of the Bill and the grant of assent by the President. Any crime against women committed during the period when the law is in the making will be punishable only under the existing law,” Tewari said.
The government has to introduce a legislation to replace the ordinance and to get it approved in Parliament within six weeks of the re-assembly of Parliament, according to the Constitution.
Another Bill to amend the criminal laws is pending in Parliament. Introduced on 4 December, 2012, the Criminal Laws (Amendment) Bill 2012 has been referred to the standing committee, which draws elected members from all political parties.
Chidambaram said the government will wait for the recommendation of standing committee and then will decided on bringing a Bill in the budget session, which is likely to be called on 21 February.
Besides the ordinance, the government has issued directives for time-bound improvement in women’s safety and greater responsibility of the law enforcement agencies. Action against erring officials, more police control room vehicles, close circuit television cameras, women-only buses and emergency helplines are among the other steps that the government has taken.