Most proposals of Verma panel accepted: Govt

Only some contentious issues like change in AFSPA ignored

The government on Monday dispelled contentions that it had hastened the anti-rape ordinance and said it merely “held back” a few “difficult questions” posed by some recommendations of the Justice Verma Committee report.

The suggestions included reducing the age of juvenile, marital rape and amending the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) owing to “strong divergent opinions.”

It fielded two of its top line ministers—P Chidambaram and Manish Tiwari—to counter fierce opposition from women’s groups and political parties by explaining the advantages of the ordinance over legislation.

Chidambaram is Finance Minister and Manish Tiwari is Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting. However,  Union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde and Minister of State R P N Singh were conspicuous by their absence at the  media briefing, despite their ministry piloting the ordinance.

Chidambaram and Tiwari argued that 11 of the 22 clauses in the ordinance had been borrowed from the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2012, pending with the parliamentary standing committee on home affairs and over which the Justice Verma Committee had a
broad agreement.

Besides uploading the ordinance on the Press Information Bureau website, the government also started streamlining a response mechanism to enhance security for women. The new road map it unveiled made registration of FIR compulsory by police stations irrespective of jurisdiction, preventing cops from harassing those coming to the aid of distressed women, helpline for women, establishing crisis-response centres in hospitals and sensitising police force to be gender neutral.

Chidambaram said: “It would not be correct to say that any recommendation of the Justice Verma Committee has been ‘rejected’ by the government. The correct position is that some recommendations of the Justice Verma committee had not been incorporated in the Ordinance because of divergence of opinion on the issues.”

On questions critical of the government’s decision to promulgate the ordinance weeks before Parliament is to convene for the Budget session, Chidambaram said the ordinance immediately “amends criminal laws.”

“If we take the route of a bill, the changes to the law will take effect only upon the passing of the bill and grant of assent by the president,” he said.

Since the law comes into effect “prospectively and not retrospectively,” it will enable law enforcement agencies to tackle sex crimes effectively before its passage. Asking the people to handle the issue with utmost seriousness, the minister said the government “is under no obligation to introduce the bill and pass it in Parliament” to replace the ordinance.

He said the government would initiate discussions with political parties on the bill and enable a debate in Parliament. The ordinance would help in the speedy trial of the six accused in the December 16 gang-rape case, in which a fast-track court had agreed to frame charges.

“The government hopes that stringent provisions in the ordinance will have a deterrent effect on potential criminals during the period between now and the date when the new law is passed by Parliament,” he said. He stressed that substantive amendments had been made to the IPC, CrPC and Evidence Act. Going beyond the Verma panel findings, the ordinance prescribes capital punishment in the event of rape leading to life-crippling injury or death. It also recommends death penalty for repeat offenders.

The amendments are intended to protect the dignity of the victim, restrain any police excesses and facilitate better recording of evidence.

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