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Explained: Maharashtra’s Shakti Act that approved death penalty for rape

With the passage of the Bill, it became the second state in India after Andhra Pradesh to approve death penalty for heinous offences of rape and gangrape.

maharashtra rape law, maharashtra crime law, maharashtra violence against women, maharashtra news, indian expressThe Act requires the trial in these cases to be conducted on a day-to-day basis and completed within 30 working days from the date of filing of the chargesheet.

The Maharashtra Assembly on Thursday (December 23) passed the Shakti Criminal Laws (Maharashtra Amendment) Act unanimously. With the passage of the Bill, it became the second state in India after Andhra Pradesh to approve death penalty for heinous offences of rape and gangrape. The Assembly has made changes to the laws on rape, gangrape, acid attacks, sexual harassment under the Indian Penal Code, provisions of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act as well as changes in relevant provisions of the Criminal Procedure Code.

What are the main changes made?

The Act has amended the existing criminal laws to include death penalty as punishment in cases of rape and gangrape “in cases which have the characteristic of offence is heinous in nature and where adequate conclusive evidence is there and the circumstances warrant exemplary punishment, with death”. The existing law on rape had provisions for death penalty only in cases of repeated offences. The Act has also enhanced fines and punishment for offences of sexual violence against women and minors. Under the POCSO Act too, punishment for penetrative sexual assault in heinous cases has been enhanced to death penalty.

The Act requires the trial in these cases to be conducted on a day-to-day basis and completed within 30 working days from the date of filing of the chargesheet. It also requires for the investigation to be completed within a month of the FIR which can be extended by another month by the concerned Special Inspector General of Police or Commissioner of Police only for specific reasons given in writing.

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In cases of grievous hurt caused due to acid attacks under Section 326A, the punishment has been enhanced to a minimum of 15 years which can be extended to the remainder of the natural life of the perpetrator along with fine. In cases of voluntarily throwing acid or attempting to throw it, punishment under section 326B has been enhanced to a minimum of seven years and a maximum of ten years. The fine amount in these cases will be towards medical expenses including plastic surgery and face reconstruction, the Act states.

What are the additions made to the existing laws?

The Act has provided a separate provision under the law for sexual harassment. Section 354E has been inserted to the IPC for intimidation of women by any mode of communication, in addition to insulting modesty.

The provisions state that whoever-man, woman or transgender-does any act to “create a sense of danger, intimidation or fear to a woman’ by any act including offensive communication by telephone, email, social media or any other digital mode which is ‘lascivious or lewd’ in nature, is defaming or causing disrepute or uses a woman’s name, her particulars, photographs, to violate her privacy or outrage her modesty will be punishable for a maximum of two years and a fine up to Rs one lakh. This provisions also includes threat to upload or disseminate any sound or video file including a real or fabricated depiction of any part of a woman in any sexual act.

In the category of persons who are liable to aggravated punishment for rape, the Act has included those staffers or contractual employees who are providing security or maintenance to a building.

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The Act has also made it mandatory for social media platforms, mobile data companies to share data sought for the purposes of investigation in cases of rape, sexual harassment, acid attacks and relevant provisions under the POCSO Act within three working days or face imprisonment for a maximum of three months and/or a fine of Rs 25 lakh.

The Act has also included a provision under for punishment between 1-3 years and a fine of up to Rs 1 lakh for any person “who makes false complaint or provides false information against any person solely with the intention to humiliate, extort, threaten, defame or harass” in cases of rape, sexual harassment and acid attacks.

The Act states that bail in cases of acid attacks, rape and gangrape can be decided only by sessions court and higher courts. Grant of anticipatory bail in such cases has also been prohibited.

Has there been any criticism of the changes?

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When the Bill was tabled last year, 92 signatories including prominent lawyers, child rights and women’s groups, wrote to the Chief Minister opposing the proposed changes. It was suggested that enhancement of punishment to death penalty can be counter-productive. It said that in many cases where the perpetrators are family members or known to the victims including children, it would be difficult to find support to approach authorities leading to unreported cases. It was also submitted that it would endanger lives of victims since punishment for murder and rape could both attract a death penalty. They had suggested instead that there may be effective implementation of existing laws to make accessing justice easier for victims.

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Retired Bombay High Court judge Justice B G Kolse-Patil called the Shakti Act ‘draconian’, stating that the law can be misused to settle political scores. He also said that when world over death sentences are being done away with, there is a need for a rethink for death penalty as punishment.

First published on: 28-12-2021 at 11:26:17 am
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