Death for rape as govt pulls past panel

New Delhi, Feb. 1: The Centre has sent to the President an ordinance that has provision for capital punishment for rape and gang rape that causes the death or persistent vegetative state of the victim.

The provision means that the government has bowed to public outcry and gone a step beyond the recommendations of the Justice J.S. Verma committee that stopped short of proposing the death penalty.

The panel had recommended maximum punishment of jail till death for brutality similar to that the 23-year-old victim was subjected to in a bus in Delhi.

However, the Union cabinet, which held a special meeting today to discuss the Verma committee report, is learnt to have supported a home ministry "preference" for the death penalty in such extreme cases.

According to sources the ordinance says "death penalty to rapists shall be awarded in exceptional cases". The final decision will rest with the courts.

The President will have to give his assent before the ordinance can be promulgated. The provisions will eventually be included in the Criminal Law Amendment Bill, 2012, that is pending now.

Among the key recommendations that were not accepted was inclusion of marital rape as a criminal offence. Since marital rape will not be criminalised, the committee's suggestion to remove sexual intercourse by a man with his wife during separation from the list of heinous crimes was not accepted.

The recommendation to remove the requirement of sanction for prosecuting armed forces personnel accused of crime against women was also rejected. The committee's proposal to take the immunity away from the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) echoed a long-standing demand in the Northeast and Kashmir. But the opinion of the armed forces appears to have prevailed.

A proposal to lower the age of consent for sexual activities to 16 from 18 has also not been accepted.

A proposal by the three-member Verma committee for payment of compensation adequate to meet at least the medical expenses incurred by the victim was rejected. The government felt that the compensation then would be very low.

When evidence is recorded, videography will not be made mandatory but it will be optional, according to the government.

On evidence and cross-examination, several key recommendations of the committee were accepted.

The recommendation that evidence of the character of previous sexual experience should not be made relevant in certain cases was accepted by the government. The government has also agreed that questions regarding "moral character" will not be put to the victim during cross-examination.

Presumption of absence of consent in certain cases of sexual assault was accepted.

The recommendations on punishment for voyeurism and stalking, including its definition, were accepted in their entirety.

The right to private defence during an acid attack was also recognised.

But the government did not agree to a recommendation that no sanction would be required for prosecution of a judge or magistrate or public servant if accused of crimes against women. The government did not agree to the suggestion in order to "avoid false complaints".

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