Verma panel for stiffer punishment to rapists

Rules out death penalty as it is a "regressive step" and "may not have a deterrent effect"

PTI | January 23, 2013



The Justice Verma Committee on Thursday recommended enhancing punishment of upto 20 years imprisonment for rape and murder and life for gang rape but refrained from suggesting death penalty.

The three-member Committee headed by former Chief Justice J S Verma submitted its 630-page report to the government suggesting amendment of criminal laws to provide for higher punishment to rapists, including those belonging to police and public servants.

New offences have been created and stiffer punishment has been suggested those committing it like leaving the victim in a vegetative state. The new offences include disrobing a woman, voyeurism, stalking and trafficking.

The present law provides for punishment for rapists of imprisonment ranging from seven years to life.

The panel, which was constituted in the wake national outrage over the December 16 gangrape of a 23-year-old girl in Delhi in which one of the accused six is said to be a juvenile, however, is of the opinion that the age of the juvenile under the Juvenile Justice Act need not be lowered from the present 18.

There has been strong demand that the age of a juvenile should be brought down to 16 in view of the fact that the minor accused in the Delhi gangrape allegedly behaved in the most brutal way.

Releasing the report, Justice Verma told a news conference that the Committee has not suggested death penalty for rapist because there was overwhelming suggestions from the women organisations against it, a point that was received with thunderous applause from activists at the media interaction.

The Committee did not recommend death penalty for rape because it was a "regressive step" and it "may not have a deterrent effect".

"We have not recommended death penalty as we had overwhelming suggestions against it. The women groups unanimously were against death penalty and that is why we thought that is a strong reason to respect that view particularly in view of the modern trend also," Justice Verma said.

Among the amendments proposed is a change in Section 100 of the IPC dealing with right of private defence which extends to causing death.

Taking note of the brutality committed in the Delhi gang rape incident, the Committee suggested replacement of Section 375 defining rape by defining specific unnatural acts.

Intentional touching will constitute the offence of sexual assault for which punishment will be a maximum of five years rigorous imprisonment or fine or both.

Use of words, gestures which create an unwelcome threat of sexual nature or advance would invite a maximum punishment of one year imprisonment or fine or both.

Justice Verma came down heavily on Union Home Secretary R K Singh for praising Delhi Police Commissioner Neeraj Kumar in the wake of the gang rape incident instead of coming out with an apology.

The Committee said the Delhi gang rape incident has disclosed the failure of many public functionaries responsible for traffic regulation, maintenance of law and order and more importantly, their low and skewed priority of dealing with complaints of sexual assault.

Disputes relating to the jurisdiction of the police over the area of the crime are often a cause of delay in initiating the process of taking cognisance of the crime and providing medical aid to the victim.

The panel said the peculiarity of the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi not having any control over the police force, which control vests only in the Ministry of Home Affairs is the reason given publicly by the Delhi Chief Minister for the absence of responsibility of her government.

"This ambiguity must be removed forthwith so that there is no divided responsibility in Delhi in respect of maintenance of law and order. Such a step is also essential to maintain accountability," it said.

The Committee also took note of the apathy of civil society and mentioned about the inaction of passers-by and bystanders, who failed in their citizenship duty of rendering help to the Delhi gang rape victim and her companion who were lying badly injured and disrobed on the roadside for a considerable amount of time.

"Misbehaviour of the police towards any samaritan is often the cause for such apathy. Bust this must not deter citizens from doing their duty. A change in the behaviour of the citizenry will also improve the conduct of the police. This effort must be promoted," it said.

The Panel said the brutalities of the armed forces faced by residents in the border areas have led to a deep disenchantment and the lack of mainstreaming of such persons into civil society.

"Serious allegations of persistent sexual assault on the women in such areas and conflict areas are causing more alienation," it said.

Committee member Gopal Subramanium said the Juvenile Justice Act has been a total failure and condition of the juvenile homes were pathetic.

"When you read our report you will find we have extracted from the reports of the National Commission for Protection of Children and you will be shocked to see the unimaginable things juveniles have to do there...," he said.

The panel suggested that the Chief Justice of the High Court of every state should device appropriate machinery for administration and supervision of these juvenile homes in consultation with experts in the field.

The Committee also said all marriages in the country -- irrespective of the personal laws under which such marriages are solemnised -- should mandatorily be registered in the presence of a magistrate and the magistrate will ensure that the marriage has been solemnised without any demand for dowry having been made and that the marriage has taken place with the full and free consent of both partners.

The panel suggested medical examination of victims of sexual assault which were prepared on the basis of the best practices advised by global experts in the field of gynaecology and psychology.

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