Government hopes to approve anti-rape bill Thursday

The government Wednesday hoped that the anti-rape bill could be approved by the union cabinet Thursday if a group of ministers (GoM) was able to resolve the differences over the issue, sources said.

"We hope the bill comes up before the cabinet Thursday," said a senior official. A GoM headed by Finance Minister P. Chidambaram is expected to meet late Wednesday to resolve the pending differences over the anti-rape bill.

The GoM had met Tuesday evening for two hours and sorted out some of the issues, said the sources. Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde had Tuesday expressed confidence that that differences would be resolved and the government will be able to secure parliamentary approval for the legislation by March 22.

Other members of the GoM are Shinde, Women and Child Development Minister Krishna Tirath, Law Minister Ashwani Kumar and Communications Minister Kapil Sibal.
But the bill is expected to be in parliament only next week as Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath has called an all-party meet to evolve consensus over the issue March 18.

He has spoken to the Bharatiya Janata Party, Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party leaders on the legislation, said informed sources. According to the sources, the points of disagreement over the bill relate to provisions making it gender neutral, lowering the age of juvenile criminals from 18 to 16 besides provisions prescribing punishment for stalking and voyeurism.

The sources said the government needed to be careful on defining provisions which made stalking and voyeurism punishable under law as these might be challenged in a court.

There is a sense of urgency in passing the law by March 22 as the bill will replace an ordinance promulgated by President Pranab Mukherjee Feb 3 and it has to be passed within six weeks from that date.

The first half of the budget session ends March 22 and the house will reconvene April 22.

The issue has been in sharp focus after the brutal assault and gang-rape of a woman in Delhi Dec 16, last year. She succumbed to her injuries Dec 29 in a Singapore hospital, where she was airlifted for specialised treatment.

Proposing the death penalty in the rarest of rare cases of rape and for repeat offenders while keeping marital rape out of its ambit, the ordinance was framed by the government as evidence of its intention to treat the issue of crimes against women with urgency.

It also incorporated suggestions of the Justice J.S. Verma Committee formed to give views to make anti-rape laws more strong.

Women's rights activist have accused the government of lacking political will to bring a stronger law for protection of women.

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