Ordinance is in response to public demand: Chidambaram

Asserting that the government has not rejected any recommendation of the Justice (Retd) J S Verma committee, Finance Minister P Chidambaram Monday said it is hoped that the ordinance promulgated to award harsher sentences to those convicted for crime against women will deter potential criminals.

He also said that all suggestions made by the panel such as reducing the juvenile age, marital rape and amending AFSPA are under active consideration and a decision to incorporate them will be taken at a later stage.

"The government hopes that the stringent provisions in the ordinance will have a deterrent effect on potential criminals during the period between now and the date on which the new law will be enacted by Parliament," Chidambaram told reporters during a briefing by the group of ministers (Media).

He said the ordinance promulgated on Sunday contains 22 clauses and of these, 11 clauses have been taken from the pending Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2012, either wholly or substantially.

Chidambaram said there was a universal demand that laws must be amended immediately and the government came to the conclusion that there was a strong case to promulgate it. He said although criminal law can apply only prospectively, the changes made in procedural laws through the ordinance would apply to ongoing trials.

Information and Broadcasting minister Manish Tewari, who was also present at the briefing, said it is obligatory for the government to introduce a Bill to replace the ordinance and to get it passed in Parliament within six weeks.

Chidambaram said there would be more consultations and the Bill to replace the ordinance will be introduced in the budget session of Parliament. "There will be discussions with political parties. There will be a debate in Parliament when the Bill is introduced to replace the ordinance," he said.

While recommendations of the Verma panel on punishment have been accepted, Chidambaram said the ordinance has prescribed death as the maximum punishment in case of rape followed by injury which causes death or leaves the victim in a persistent vegetative state. He said death has also been prescribed as the maximum punishment in the case of a second conviction for sexual assault or aggravated sexual assault.

Besides, the ordinance contains provisions amending the Code of Criminal Procedure and the Indian Evidence Act. "These amendments are intended to protect the dignity of the victim, restrain any police excesses and facilitate better recording of evidence. These provisions will ensure fair and speedy trial of such cases and more stringent punishment to the convicted persons," he added.

While clarifying the government's stand on the Verma panel recommendations, Chidambaram cited the example of marital rape and reduction of the age of juveniles to 16 from 18 as issues that require more consultations. He said the issue of reducing the age of juvenility would be dealt by the Home ministry and the Women and Child Welfare ministry. He also said amending AFSPA needs discussions with the armed forces.

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