Ordinance omitted many recommendations of panel
President Pranab Mukherjee on Sunday signed an ordinance against sexual violence, which allowed for death penalty in the rarest of rare cases. But, there was strident criticism from women’s groups, who had earlier made pleas to the President not to give his assent to the ordinance.
The Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance-2013 proposes enhanced punishment for crimes against women, including stalking, voyeurism, acid attacks, indecent gestures through words and inappropriate touch and brings into its ambit ‘marital rape’. However, it did not incorporate many suggestion of the Justice Verma Committee, especially the one to remove sexual offences by armed forces personnel from the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, so that no special sanction is needed to act against the accused in such cases.
“All we can do is that when Parliament is not in session, we can promulgate an ordinance. It does not mean widespread consultations cannot take place when the actual bill is brought in Parliament,” External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid said. The government has indicated that there could be changes in the draft legislation, based on consultations with political parties and civil society groups.
The BJP had welcomed the ordinance stating that the party was “in support of strict laws”. “In Parliament, we will elaborate our views regarding this,” party spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad said.
The CPM had, however, slammed the ordinance on Saturday, saying it was “against democratic norms” to promulgate an ordinance when the Parliament session was about to start. “The ordinance rejects the Verma Committee recommendations on issues such as making rape a gender-specific crime in the law, on increasing the punishment to public servants guilty of dereliction of duty, on increasing the punishment and also the guaranteed compensation for victims of acid attacks. It is highly selective about other recommendations,” the CPM politburo said on Saturday. This criticism was also echoed by women’s activists, who expressed profound disappointment.
The activists alleged that the Centre was trying to score political points by bringing the ordinance and was not serious about overall reformation of the existing laws. “It is a trick to sideline the Justice Verma Committee report,” activist and lawyer Vrinda Grover said. She said the Justice Verma Committee targeted the impunity of family, policemen, army officers and bureaucrats, but the government went soft on that.