President Pranab Mukherjee has signed the anti-rape ordinance to amend criminal laws so as to put a check on crimes against women. As per news reports, the ordinance, which was announced by the Union Cabinet last week, has included a majority of the recommendations forwarded by the three-member Justice J.S. Verma Committee.
The Union Cabinet had on Friday recommended to the President to issue an ordinance to effectively deal with crimes against women.
Union Law Minister Ashwani Kumar informed media then about the decision soon after a Cabinet meeting held on Friday night at Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's residence.
Kumar had then said: "The Cabinet has decided to recommend the ordinance to the President. It will have most of the Justice Verma Committee recommendations. The UPA Government is committed to protect the dignity and safety of women in the country."
The three-member committee led by former Chief Justice of India Justice (Retired) J. S. Verma, was constituted after the countrywide outrage following the gruesome gang rape of a 23-year-old woman student on a running bus by six persons, includinga juvenile on December 16 last year.
The committee took a month to submit its elaborate report, which suggests ways to deal with crimes against women.
The panel has recommended enhanced punishment of imprisonment up to 20 years for rape and life term for gang rape and murder.
It has also suggested that crimes like stalking, disrobing a woman and voyeurism be treated as new offences with stringent punishment.
The government has said that it is looking into the possibility of giving capital punishment in cases of rape that are gruesome and can be assessed to be included in the rarest of rare by the judiciary.
Women and Child Development Minister Krishna Tirath on Saturday said the ordinance approved by the Union Cabinet on the basis of the Justice Verma Committee report, would definitely create fear among criminal elements of the society.
Tirath said then: "The Cabinet has agreed to most of the recommendations proposed by in the Justice Verma Committee report. We have included issues like stalking, acid attack and the stringent punishment in the ordinance sent to the President. We will get it passed through Parliament in the upcoming Budget session."
External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid said: "All you can do is that when Parliament is not in session, we can promulgate an ordinance. It does not mean that widespread consultations cannot take place when the actual bill is brought in Parliament."
"I am sure that vivid organisations and all political parties will come together for widespread consultations. With all the sensitivity, this area of law I think requires from all of us and then an updated Bill will come to the parliament. But this is in response to the sense of urgency that has been felt," he added.
"And, I think, we should recognise that urgency that a lot of young people have also wanted. But the content will not be the content that we do not have the maximum consensus on by the time we actually get into the parliament to pass the bill that will replace the ordinance," he said.
Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) leader Brinda Karat said: "We disapprove of the ordinance. The CPI-M has issued a statement that we disapprove of this ordinance. See when Parliament is meeting, it is just three weeks away; it is undemocratic in fact to bring an ordinance like this. And the content of the ordinance is doing injustice to the Justice Verma recommendations because it is highly selective in what it has included in the ordinance. And in fact what it has included in some parts also is against what Justice Verma has recommended. We don't agree with this ordinance."
Karat further said: "as far as death penalty is concerned, Justice Verma has already clarified and correctly that there is rarest of rare categories on our statute books today".
"Therefore, a case of murder and rape would any case come under this category if that is what the judges want. Therefore, there was no need except to divert attention from the serious recommendations of the Committee on state's culpability, including recommendation to include the armed forces in the criminal law as far as sexual offences are concerned," she added.
Former Indian Police Service (IPS) officer and activist Kiran Bedi said the government needs to give a holistic response to the society on the Justice Verma Committee's recommendations.
"Justice Verma Committee is not only about the law. There is a lot before the law and there is a lot after the law. I think the government needs to give a holistic response to the society on Justice Verma Committee's recommendations. It concerns police reforms, it concerns judicial reforms, it concerns electoral reforms. I think what the people of this country demand of this government is a holistic response," said Bedi.
"It's a beginning made, but it's a very long way to go because Justice Verma (Committee's) recommendations is a holistic correction. A politician involved in crime, a person in uniform involved in crime and then police reforms as such. I think this is a beginning. I hope this is not an intention for people to say we have done it and that's it. I think what this country is demanding is a holistic response because Justice Verma Committee is a very holistic way at looking at crime prevention," she added.
Various women's rights activists, however, have criticised the government for ignoring the committee recommendations regarding marital rape and reviewing controversial sections of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA).
The ordinance introduced yesterday is also silent on the recommendation to prevent politicians facing charges of sexual crimes, from contesting elections.