In its effort to make the country safe for women, the Union Cabinet on Friday approved an ordinance amending the existing criminal laws providing death penalty in the rarest of rare rape cases causing death or persistent vegetative state.
The ordinance will make the existing laws more relevant and stringent for checking crimes against women by including acid attack, trafficking, sexual harassment at workplace and stalking under the ‘sexual assault’ law and brings into its ambit ‘marital rape’.
“We believe that this is a progressive piece of legislation and is consistent with the sensitivities of the nation in the aftermath of the outrageous gangrape in Delhi,” Union Law Minister Ashwani Kumar said.
According to sources, President Pranab Mukherjee will soon sign the ordinance which reflects the recommendations of Justice J S Verma Committee.
“The ordinance approved by the Cabinet replaced the word ‘rape’ by ‘sexual assault’ and included stalking, acid attacks and use of criminal force under the relevant sections of the law. The Cabinet discussed the Justice Verma Committee report before approving the amendments. The ordinance will entail the changes to be enacted in the existing criminal laws by amending the Indian Penal Code, Evidence Act and Code of Criminal Procedure,” the sources said.
Despite public outcry and major political parties like the Congress and BJP favouring the noose for rapists, Justice Verma Committee did not recommend death penalty, saying that women groups were unanimously against it.
In cases where rape leads to death of the victim or leaves her in “persistent vegetative state”, the minimum punishment will be 20 years in jail which can be extended to the natural life of the convict or death, the sources said, adding discretion will be with the court.
Acid attacks, termed the most heinous form of attack on women by the committee, will invite punishment of 10 years which may go up to life.
The committee in its recommendation had also suggested that the convict in such cases will be liable to pay compensation to the victim, adequate to meet at least the medical expenses incurred due to the attack.
For use of force to outrage a woman’s modesty, the punishment has been enhanced from two to five years and for indecent gesture, punishment has been enhanced from one to three years.
In case of stalking (personal or virtual interaction by force) imprisonment of one year has been approved which may extend to three years with fine.
In case of trafficking, punishment of seven years which may extend to 10 years has been cleared.
The sources said the meeting chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh also discussed the lowering of juvenile’s age in heinous crimes.
Minister of State for Home R P N Singh, who met Justice Verma on Friday, said the ordinance would be enacted soon.