Verma report: A long road ahead

Semi Column

While the Justice J S Verma Committee's recommendations on dealing with crimes against women have been welcomed with enthusiasm by everyone, especially the activists, there is a need to take pause and consider certain facts. Facts that will show why it might be naive to expect overnight action.

Since law and order is predominantly a state subject, even if the Centre decides to accept and implement all or some of the recommendations, it will have to hold extensive consultations with the state governments. And, if past experience on the Centre engaging states on proposed legislations dealing with law and order is an indicator, no action is likely anytime soon. This possibility is a certainty if one reads correctly the jurist's lament Wednesday about state DGPs not coming with any suggestions to the panel, almost giving it a cold-shoulder.

Also, once the positive noises over the recommendations die down, one can expect questions being raised over the panel having exceeded its brief by seeking amendments to electoral laws as well as the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. Incidentally, in making the recommendations vis-a-vis the electoral laws and the AFSPA, the panel has only reiterated long-standing demands from a section of the public (on AFSPA) and anti-corruption activists and the Election Commission (on electoral laws). If one goes by the questioning murmurs in the corridors of power, the last word on both these matters has not been heard.

Since many of the recommendations would necessarily translate into withdrawal of amendments to criminal laws introduced in Parliament by Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde on December 4 which were finalised after over three years of consultations that would also translate into more delay. For example, there will be contrasting stands on the commission's recommendation to retain rape as a women-specific crime. Through the criminal laws amendment Bill, the government wants to make rape a gender-neutral offence. The Centre won't have the going easy with states on the issue of much-needed police reforms either.

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