Ordinance on strong anti-rape laws gets cabinet nod

New Delhi, Feb 1 (IANS) The union cabinet Friday approved an ordinance for enhanced punishment in cases of crimes against women, including sexual assault, acid attacks, voyeurism and trafficking, as suggested by the Justice J.S. Verma Committee.

Minister of State for Home R.P.N. Singh told IANS the government had recommended to President Pranab Mukherjee that an ordinance be issued.

He sid the government had made a commitment to enact a stringent law on crimes aginst women and had kept its word.

Law Minister Ashwani Kumar said the ordinance will have original provisions of the criminal law amendment bill and recommendations of Justice Verma panel.

"The UPA government has responded to sensitivities of people by acting with utmost expedition," he said, adding the provisions of the ordinance were aimed at enhancing sense of security and protection of "our mothers and sisters" and other citizens.

"It is one of the more progressive legislations. Hopefully, it will be effective. The speed with which UPA acted in the matter validated our assurance," he said.

Sources said that the ordinance will be replaced by a law in the budget session of parliament expected to start in the second half of February.

The criminal law amendment bill is currently being examined by the standing committee of home ministry.

The sources said ordinance deals with crimes against women and the term of punishment for those accused of grave crime against women would be enhanced.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had Wednesday assured Justice Verma, a former Chief Justice of India, that the government would be prompt in pursuing the recommendations of the committee he headed.

TheVerma Committee, set up by the government Dec 23 to review laws to provide speedier justice and enhanced punishment in cases of aggravated sexual assault, submitted its report to the government Jan 23.

The panel was set up in the wake of outrage over the gruesome gang-rape and brutalities committed on a 23-year-old woman in a moving bus in south Delhi Dec 16.

Life imprisonment for gang-rape, but no death penalty even if the victim dies or is reduced to a vegetative state, were among the recommendations of the panel.

The committee had not suggested death penalty for rapists because there were overwhelming suggestions from women organisations against it.

The panel had recommended that stalking, acid attacks and voyeurism should be considered separate crimes and suggested seven years imprisonment for acid attacks on women and for voyeurism, including making MMS clips and passing them on to others.

It said trafficking in women should be punishable with rigorous imprisonment for a term between seven to 10 years.

"Stalking or attempts to contact a person repeatedly through any means shall be liable to get a term of up to three years," it said.

The committee, however, did not suggest lowering the legally defined age of "juvenile" from 18 to 16 years, a demand by women activists after one of the accused in the Delhi gang-rape was found to be below 18 years of age.

In its recommendations, the committee came down heavily on the administration, including police and citizens, for not helping the grievously wounded young woman and her male friend who were thrown off the bus after the gang-rape.

It also took an open dig at the "peculiarity" of the Delhi government of not having the power over police in the city and said this "ambiguity" needs to be removed to maintain law and order and ensure accountability.

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