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Law on sexual assault: Cabinet nod to Justice Verma panel amendments, death penalty

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New Delhi: An ordinance will be brought to amend the criminal law with focus on crime against women, providing punishment up to the entire life of a convict in case of rape, whose terminology has been expanded to “sexual assault.”

The decision to promulgate the ordinance was taken at a specially-convened meeting of Union Cabinet, just 20 days ahead of the Budget Session of Parliament.

Being brought against the backdrop of the gang-rape and brutal assault of a 23-year-old girl in Delhi in December, the ordinance entails changes in the criminal law by amending Indian Penal Code (IPC), Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) and the Evidence Act.

The government will now recommend to President Pranab Mukherjee to promulgate the ordinance, which will make the law more women-friendly.

The amendments have been made in tune with the recommendations of the Justice J. S. Verma Committee, which was formed in the wake of the gang-rape incident, besides the proposals in the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2011, which is pending in the Lok Sabha.

The amendments include changing the definition of “rape” to “sexual assault” and enhancement of punishment from seven years up to natural life of a convict, sources said.

There will be provision for 20-year imprisonment for rape and in case of rape or gang-rape with grievous hurt, there will be provision sentence up to the convict’s natural life.

Among other amendments is the one making acid attack as a separate offence, carrying minimum punishment of 10 years, which may go up to life.

For use of force to outrage a woman’s modesty, the punishment has been enhanced from two to five years and for indecent gesture, punishment has been enhanced from one to three years.

Rape that leads to death of the victim or leaving her in a vegetative state can now attract death penalty under the ordinance cleared by the Union Cabinet.

It also proposes enhanced punishment for other crimes against women like stalking, voyeurism, acid attacks, indecent gestures like words and inappropriate touch and brings into its ambit “marital rape.”

The Union Cabinet went beyond the Verma Commi-ttee’s recommendation by providing for capital punishment in the cases where rape leads to death of

the victim or leaves her in “persistent vegetative state.”

In such cases, the minimum punishment will be 20 years in jail which can be extended to the natural life of the convict or death, sources said, adding discretion will be with the court.

“We believe that this is a progressive piece of legislation and is consistent with felt sensitivities of the nation in the aftermath of outrageous gangrape in Delhi,” Law Minister Ashwani Kumar said.