The Union Cabinet on Saturday approved an ordinance to allow courts to award death penalty to those convicted of raping children up to 12 years of age, according to official sources in the government. The criminal law amendment ordinance seeks to amend the Indian Penal Code (IPC), the Evidence Act, the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) and the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act to introduce a new provision to sentence convicts of such crimes punishment of death.
On Friday, the government had informed the Supreme Court that it is actively considering amending the penal law to introduce death penalty to the accused.
According to a source in the government, it has also been decided to put in place a number of measures for speedy investigation and trial of rape cases. For instance, the minimum punishment for rape will now be life imprisonment as opposed to rigorous imprisonment of 7-10 years in the past.
In case of rape of a girl under 16 years, minimum punishment has been increased from 10 years to 20 years, extendable to imprisonment for rest of life, which shall mean imprisonment till that person’s natural life.
In case of rape of a girl under 12 years, the minimum punishment is that of 20 years’imprisonment, which can be increased to imprisonment for life or death penalty.
In the ordinance, time limit for investigation as well as completion of trial of all cases of rape has been prescribed, which has to be mandatorily completed within two months. According to the source, a duration of six months has also been prescribed for disposal of appeals in all rape cases.
In the ordinance approved by the Union Cabinet, restrictions on bail have also been prescibed which are as follows:
• It has been prescribed that there will be no provision for anticipatory bail for a person accused of rape or gang rape of a girl under 16 years.
• It has also been provided that court has to give notice of 15 days to public prosecutor and the representative of the victim before deciding bail applications in case of rape of a girl under 16 years of age.
In order to give effect to the legal provisions and to improve the capacity of criminal justice system to deal with rape cases, Cabinet has approved a number of important measures which are as follows:
(a) Strengthening the courts and prosecution
• New Fast Track Courts will be set up in consultation with states/UTs and High Courts.
• Creation of new posts of public prosecutors and related infrastructure in consultation with states/UTs.
• Special forensic kits for rape cases to all police stations and hospitals.
• Dedicated manpower will be provided for investigation of rape cases in a time bound manner.
• Setting up special forensic labs in each state/UT exclusively for rape cases.
• These measures will form part of a new mission mode project to be launched within three months.
(b) National Database
• National Crime Records Bureau will maintain a national database and profile of sexual offenders.
• This data will be regularly shared with States/UTs for tracking, monitoring and investigation, including verification of antecedents by police.
(c) Assistance to victims
• The present scheme of One Stop Centres for assistance to victim to be extended to all districts in the country.
“An ordinance today is the best way to deal with the issue. An amendment bill will have to wait (till July) when the Monsoon Session of Parliament commences,” a law ministry official said. The ordinance will now be sent to President Ram Nath Kovind for his assent.
After the December 2012 gangrape case in New Delhi, when the criminal laws were amended, the provision of death penalty in case a woman either died or was left in a “vegetative state” after rape was introduced through an ordinance which later became the Criminal Law Amendment Act.
In his first comments on the incidents of rape of a 17-year-old in Unnao in Uttar Pradesh and the sexual assault and murder of an eight-year-old girl Kathua in the Jammu region, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had last week said that no criminal will be spared and daughters will get justice. “Such incidents shake our sensibilities. I want to assure the nation that no criminal will be spared. Justice will be done. Our daughters will get justice,” he had said at an event to inaugurate the B R Ambedkar memorial here. While in London to attend the just-concluded Commonwealth Summit, Modi had said that rape of a daughter was a matter of shame for the country.
The decision by the Modi cabinet comes against the backdrop of the rape and murder of an eight-year-old in Jammu and Kashmir’s Kathua district and the alleged rape of a minor in Unnao by a BJP MLA, among other instances. An eight-year-old from Bakarwal community in Kathua district was sedated, held captive, gangraped and murdered in January this year. In Unnao, a 17-year-old has accused BJP MLA Kuldeep Sengar of rape. These two incidents have sparked outrage across the country and protests were held in several cities last week.
(With PTI inputs)