The administration led by the Governor on Friday amended two state laws to introduce a fresh offence called “sextortion”, making “sexual exploitation of women by people in positions of authority, having a fiduciary relationship or public servants” a criminal offence.
A government spokesman said that with the approval of amendments to Jammu and Kashmir Prevention of Corruption Act and Ranbir Penal Code and Evidence Act, J&K would “become the first state in the country to have an explicit law banning sexual exploitation of women”.
The two new Bills — Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Bill, 2018, and Jammu and Kashmir Criminal Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2018 —- were approved by the State Administrative Council (SAC) led by Governor Satya Pal Malik on Friday.
Parties like the PDP and NC questioned the Governor’s move, criticising the focus on legislation as they saw the Centre’s rule as a temporary arrangement until a new elected government took over.
A “specific offence Sextortion” has been “inserted” in Ranbir Penal Code, an official statement said. “Amendments are being made in section 154, 161 and Schedule of Criminal Procedure Code and section 53 A of the Evidence Act so as to bring sextortion at par with similar offences prescribed under Ranbir Penal Code and amendment is being made in Prevention of Corruption Act to amend the definition of misconduct and to provide that demand for sexual favours would also constitute misconduct within the meaning of section 5,’’ it said.
According to the amendments, “any persons in a position of authority or in a fiduciary relationship, or a public servant who abuses such position or fiduciary relationship to employ physical or non-physical form of coercion to extort, request or demand sexual favours from any woman in exchange of some benefits or favours that such person is empowered to grant or withhold shall be guilty of offence of sextortion”. They make it clear that “it shall be no defence that the sexual benefit was derived with the consent of the victim”.
Any person committing the offence of sextortion shall be punished with rigorous imprisonment for a term not be less than three years, but may extend to five years and with fine. The offence is “non-bailable” and “not compoundable”.
Former minister and PDP leader Nayeem Akhtar said the Governor’s move to introduce a new law or amend an existing provision on an almost daily basis may be constitutionally permissible, but is “politically inappropriate and morally questionable”. “Their primary job is to conduct polls and they must leave all these decisions to an elected government,” he said. “Malik needs to set his priorities right and, rather than act as somebody who is going to rule for years, he should know he is there till the next elected government takes over.”
National Conference provincial president Devender Rana said they welcomed the governor legislating a new law or amending an existing one if it is for better governance. However, he should refrain from any act that may entail restructuring the constitutional framework of the state and its special status, including its relationship with the federation. Such acts should be left to the legislature and democratically elected government, he added.
State Congress spokesperson Ravinder Sharma said that Governor’s rule is a temporary measure, and only those legislations shall be taken which are urgently required or mandated by central amendments.
State BJP spokesperson Sunil Sethi said that though the Governor’s administration is no replacement to legislature, one cannot wait until it is elected. Governor is enacting legislations that are urgently required, he said, adding that the legislature when elected can review those laws.
The SAC on Friday also approved establishment of the first Real Estate Regulatory Authority to promote regulated and planned growth of real estate sector by amending the Jammu and Kashmir Real Estate (Regulation and Development) Bill, 2018. Bringing an amendment to the Code of Civil Procedure, it also approved video-conferencing as an admissible method for presence of accused in criminal trials in courts.