Amid persisting differences in the Cabinet,the tough law against rape and other crimes against women was today referred to a Group of Ministers which held its first meeting and reported substantial progress in evolving a consensus.
The Group of Ministers (GoM) is expected to finalise its task tomorrow to pave the way for the Union Cabinet to consider the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill,2013 afresh on Thursday.
At today’s hour-long special meeting,the Cabinet was divided over certain provisions pertaining to stalking,voyeurism and lowering the age of consensual sex to 16 years,as also the definition of rape.
Thereafter,the decision was taken to refer to an GoM headed by Finance Minister P Chidambaram the Bill which seeks to replace the Ordinance issued on February 3.
Soon after the GoM held first meeting. Now we have completed the work substantially. I think we will require another hour or so, Chidambaram told reporters.
He said the GoM will meet again tomorrow evening and the work will be completed and the Bill will go to the Cabinet on Thursday.
Sections that we have covered,all points of view have been taken into account and reconciled and the final version of the clause has emerged and we can do that for the remaining sections also and tomorrow the work will be complete, he said.
The Cabinet meeting this morning,chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh,saw some ministers like the Law Minister insisting on adequate safeguards with regard to provisions on stalking to check against false complaints,sources said.
There were also differing views on the provisions regarding voyerism,which is proposed to be made criminal offence,and lowering of age of consensual sex to 16 years from the current 18 years.
Women and Child Development Minister Krishna Tirath is strongly against lowering the age of consent.
The Women and Child Development Ministry is of the view that lowering the age of consent for sex from 18 years to 16 years would lead to amending other laws like Juvenile Justice Act and Protection of Children against Sexual Crimes Act.
As per the existing law,sexual intercourse with a girl under the age of consent is considered rape.
The ministry is also of the opinion that the Indian society is not yet prepared for such a system to be in place.
On the issue of stalking and voyeurism,some ministers are of the view that the provisions were prone to misuse and should only be incorporated after putting in place sufficient safeguards,including harsh penalty for lodging false cases.
Stalking and voyeurism were for the first time defined as criminal offences in the Ordinance. The two issues came up for discussion at the the meeting of the GoM,sources said.
There are also differences on some other issues like replacing the term rape — which is more gender specific with sexual assault — which is gender neutral.
Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde,whose ministry is piloting the Bill,expressed confidence that the legislation will be passed by March 22.
The Criminal Laws Ordinance,which made anti-rape laws more stringent,was promulgated on February 3 in the wake of public outrage over the December 16 Delhi gangrape.
The Ordinance has to be approved by Parliament before its recess from March 22,failing which it would lapse on April 4.
Meanwhile,in an effort to ensure smooth passage of the proposed law in Parliament,Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath has called an all-party meeting on Monday.
Some parties like the Samajwadi Party have serious reservations on certain provisions of the ordinance claiming they are prone to misuse.
Lengthy inter-ministerial consultations had taken place on the issue of lowering of the age of consent from 18 years to 16 with the Women and Child Development Ministry strongly opposing the move.
The Bill retains a key provision of the ordinance under which if rape leads to death of the victim or leaves her in a vegetative state,it can also attract death penalty. The minimum punishment is 20 years in jail which may extend upto the natural life of the convict.