Verma panel recommends sweeping changes in laws, tougher penalties

FP
From amendments to the controversial Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act and criminal laws dealing with sexual violence against women to immediate steps to check trafficking of women and children, the three-member Justice J S Verma Committee Wednesday presented a detailed roadmap of steps the Centre and states should take to prevent sexual crimes against women.

The panel, however, left the maximum penalty in rape cases to life imprisonment but said this should be entire life in jail. It also did not suggest any changes to the Juvenile Justice Act in its 631-page report submitted to the Home ministry.

Observing that chemical castration — which has been talked of as punishment for rapists — needs to be researched, the panel said, "We note that it would be unconstitutional and inconsistent with basic human rights treaties for the state to expose any citizen without their consent to potentially dangerous medical side-effects. For this reason, we do not recommend mandatory chemical castration of any type as a punishment for sex offenders".

The ministry had formed the commission on December 23 "to suggest amendments to criminal laws to provide for quicker trial and enhanced punishment for criminals committing sexual assault of extreme nature against women" in the aftermath of the gangrape of a student in a Delhi bus.

If the government accepts the recommendations, it would mean amendments being brought to the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill 2012, introduced in Parliament on December 4.

During its deliberations, the panel, which included former Himachal Pradesh high court chief justice Leila Seth and former solicitor-general Gopal Subramaniam, received more than 80,000 suggestions.

Observing that "women in conflict area are entitled to all the rights and justice" and that "sexual violence by armed forces and uniformed men in conflict areas should be brought under ordinary criminal law", the panel has recommended that "there is an imminent need to review the continuance of AFSPA and AFSPA-like legal protocols in internal conflict areas as soon as possible. This is necessary for determining the propriety of resorting to this legislation in the area(s) concerned".

Among other recommendations, the committee has suggested appointment of special commissioners with adequate powers to redress complaints of sexual violence against women in conflict areas, addition of section 166 A (public servant knowingly disobeying direction of law) to the Indian Penal Code to punish government servants who don't promptly register a FIR on complaints of sexual crimes against women, making stalking and voyeurism a penal offence, bringing marital rape also under the definition of rape and tightening existing laws dealing with sexual crimes, including molestation and indecent behavior.

Under the proposed law, intentional touching of women by a man, using of words or gestures to create an unwelcome threat will be punishable with a fine and maximum imprisonment of 5 years and 1 year respectively. The panel has recommended that public servants not registering FIRs in sexual crimes should be punished with rigorous punishment that could extend to five years with a fine.

The committee has also recommended a Bill of Rights for women on the lines of countries such as New Zealand and South Africa. This law is aimed at protecting women's right to life, security and bodily integrity apart from democratic rights and rights to secured spaces in terms of housing and shelter.

It also suggested minor changes under section 326 of IPC (voluntarily causing grievous hurt) where the panel recommended compensation and damages to the victim with a punishment of 10 years which can go up to life imprisonment.

The panel also suggested the introduction of new sections such as 354 A — assault or use of criminal force on women with intent to disrobe her, where punishment will be not less than three years and can go up to seven years with a fine; section 354 B — voyeurism, where punishment for first conviction shall be one year but may be extended to three years with fine; and section 354 C - stalking where the punishment may vary between one and three years.

Contrary to the government calling "rape" as "sexual assault" in the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill 2012, the committee said that under the proposed amendment, rape will be defined as rape and not sexual assault. It also recommended amending section 376 to include 376 (1) which says punishment for rape will range from seven years to life imprisonment. A new section 376 (3) has been proposed to punish death caused while committing rape and where the punishment may vary between 20 years to entire life in prison.

Another new section, 376 B, defining and punishing rape of an underage person shall be added where punishment shall not be less than 10 years and can be extended to life imprisonment. Gangrape shall be defined and punished by a new section, 376 C, where punishment can be 20 years and extend to life imprisonment, the committee said.

A new crime of gangrape causing death or vegetative state shall be added under section 376 D, where the punishment of entire life in jail is suggested. For repeat rapists, a new section 376 E suggests punishment of entire life in jail.

Please read our terms of use before posting comments
TERMS OF USE: The views expressed in comments published on indianexpress.com are those of the comment writer's alone. They do not represent the views or opinions of The Indian Express Group or its staff. Comments are automatically posted live; however, indianexpress.com reserves the right to take it down at any time. We also reserve the right not to publish comments that are abusive, obscene, inflammatory, derogatory or defamatory.