Govt mulls ordinance to push Verma report to protect women

A day after the Prime Minister promised to act promptly and change laws to get tougher on crimes against women, the government Thursday prepared to draft an ordinance that could be issued to immediately implement some recommendations of the J S Verma panel.

A decision about promulgating an ordinance, however, has not yet been finalised as the Budget session of Parliament is barely three weeks away. Also, the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill is already with the Parliamentary standing committee and is likely to be discussed in the session. This bill is expected to incorporate tougher provisions to deal with sexual crimes.

But the ordinance option has not been ruled out mainly because it will become effective immediately while the bill may take time to be passed by Parliament that will also have the railway and general budgets to discuss. With the Verma committee submitting its report within the 30 days it was given, the government is feeling compelled to act with equal alacrity on the emotive issue, sources said. Another option being explored is to hand over the report to the standing committee and let it include the findings in its report to Parliament.

Legal experts have told the government that there is no bar on issuing an ordinance since the dates of the Parliament session have not been announced, the sources said.

"We have been told to keep the ordinance ready. We are also going to involve the Law ministry after the draft is ready. If the government decides, it could be issued early next week," a senior Home ministry official told The Indian Express.

Meanwhile, sources said that in deference to the public mood, the Home ministry is in favour of reducing the age of juveniles tried under the Juvenile Justice Act for crimes committed by them, to 16 years from 18. Consultations are learnt to be on with relevant ministries and other agencies.

Among the important recommendations of the Verma committee the government is inclined to accept is to make voyeurism, stalking and intentional touching of a girl or woman with sexual intent a penal offence. Section 509 of the Indian Panel Code is being amended to define these new crimes against women.

The government has also decided to accept the Verma panel recommendation to keep rape gender-specific (only women) and amend Section 354 of the Indian Panel Code to define sexual assault, which would also deal with crimes of sexual nature against males.

Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code, which defines rape, is likely to be amended to define gang-rape, which will be a crime punishable with full life term which means until the end of life of the convict. Death caused by rape would carry a minimum penalty of 20 years in jail as recommended by the Verma panel.

The government wants no change in the age of consent for sexual acts, something the panel wanted changed.

The ordinance could also provide for an amendment in the Indian Penal Code to define trafficking, which could be punishable with a jail term of no less than seven years and may extend to life imprisonment.

However, despite a strong recommendation by the panel, the government is not too keen to introduce the concept of breach of command, which would make senior officers of security forces or police or any government department liable to a jail term of at least seven years if their subordinates commit sexual crimes.

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