An ordinance will be brought to amend the criminal law with focus on crime against women, providing punishment upto the entire life of a convict in case of rape whose terminology has been expanded to ‘sexual assault’.
The decision to promulgate the ordinance was taken at a specially-convened meeting of Union Cabinet today, just 20 days ahead of the Budget Session of Parliament.
Being brought against the backdrop of the gangrape and brutal assault of a 23-year-old girl in Delhi in December, the ordinance entails changes in the criminal law by amending Indian Penal Code (IPC), Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) and the Evidence Act.
The government will now recommend to President Pranab Mukherjee to promulgate the ordinance, which will make the law more women-friendly.
The amendments have been made in tune with the recommendations of the Justice J S Verma Committee, which was formed in the wake of the gangrape incident, besides the proposals in the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2011 which is pending in the Lok Sabha.
The amendments include changing the definition of ‘rape’ to ‘sexual assault’ and enhancement of punishment from seven years upto natural life of a convict, sources said.
There will be provision for 20 year imprisonment for rape and in case of rape or gangrape with grievous hurt, there will be provision sentence upto the convict’s natural life.
Among other amendments is the one making acid attack as a separate offence, carrying minimum punishment of 10 years which may go up to life. For use of force to outrage a woman’s modesty, the punishment has been enhanced from two to five years and for indecent gesture, punishment has been enhanced from one to three years.
After the Delhi gangrape incident, which shocked the nation, there were vociferous demands for death penalty, but the Verma committee has not favoured it.
The government has rejected a recommendation of the Verma panel on Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act that no sanction would be required if the armed forces personnel are accused of a crime against woman.
In a bid to make the law women friendly, the ordinance suggests that only a woman police officer will take the statement of the victim of the sexual crime.
Women under 18 years will not be confronted with the accused but provision of cross examination has been retained.
There will be no personal appearance of witnesses before police officers.
The IPC allows the court to impose a lower sentence. The ordinance takes away the power of the court to lower the sentence. Penalty in term of year in jail has been recommended for a government servant if he does not cooperate on sexual offence case or harms the process of law. The panel had recommended five years in jail.
While accepting the recommendation to record the statement by police officers of the person reporting the crime at his or her residence, the government has made optional suggestion to videograph the proceedings.
The ordinance says that if a person facing acid attack kills the accused in the process of self-defence, then she will be protected under the ‘right to self defence’. Compensation for acid attack victims “adequate to meet at least the medical expenses incurred” by her has not been accepted by the government.