The Lok Sabha on Tuesday passed the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill-2013 which makes offence of voyeurism and stalking punishable.
“I wish to state that we are enacting the strict law to act as a deterrent,” Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde said, replying to a nearly six-hour debate on the bill that defines the criminal offence as “rape” instead of gender neutral “sexual assault”, increases the age of consent for sex to 18 years from 16 years as proposed in the Ordinance.
Shinde informed the House that the government wanted to make punishment harsher for sexually harassing women by indulging in voyeurism and stalking, as initially the offence was proposed to be treated as non-bailable but it was changed later to bailable due to the opposition from political parties.
Still for repeat offenders, the offence will become non-bailable, he said in the House, refusing to entertain amendments moved by BJD’s Tathagat Satpathy and seconded by Leader of Opposition Sushma Swaraj on the grounds that it was agreed in the all-party meeting.
As reported by Deccan Herald, Shinde was amused at the fuss political parties were creating on lowering the age of consent for sex to 16 years as he said this has been the age in the IPC since 1860. Recently, it was raised to 18 years when the Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance was introduced on February 3 this year.
The bill will replace the Ordinance after the Rajya Sabha passes it.
Shinde said for the first time punishment for sexual crime is being enhanced in terms of sentencing and imposition of fine.He read out six sections of the IPC to point out increased penalty proposed in the bill. For instance, in the S 354 that deals with sexual harassment, the sentence has been increased from up to two years to one to five years including fine.
For rape, the rigorous imprisonment is proposed to be not less than seven years but it may extend to life. But, for repeat offender the sentence would mean for the rest of the life from the present sentence of ten years.
Similarly, the amendment to IPC to introduce S 376 (A) that suggests that in rape cases where victim either dies or is pushed to a vegetative stage, the sentence will be not less than 20 years and which can be extended to life imprisonment.
The debate on the bill witnessed three divisions of votes on amendments proposed by opposition MPs including two from BJD’s B Mahtab. However, all fell through in the voting. Mahtab had moved an amendment to provide only for life term for perpetrators of acid attacks, and not sentence of ten years which would be stretched to life.
Mahtab’s amendment was defeated with 105-62. However, his move to press for division of votes, left Shinde jittery as he was seen walking up to the Opposition bench to consult Sushma Swaraj, apparently to find out the BJP's stand on the issue.