Central and state governments today failed to evolve a consensus on death penalty for rape convicts even as they seem to have agreed on the definition of juvenile by bringing down the age bar to 16 from 18 years.
The day-long meeting of Chief Secretaries and DGPs, convened by the Centre in the wake of the gang rape of a girl in Delhi, discussed threadbare various ways to check crime against women and agreed to take steps for protection of women and initiating speedy trial and conviction of criminals.
"There is no consensus on amending the law to include capital punishment for rape. One or two chief secretaries have suggested but majority kept mum on the issue," said a senior officer who attended the meeting.
Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde said all suggestions, including death penalty for rape, put forward by the Chief Secretaries and DGPs would be considered by the central government.
The representatives of state governments and top Home Ministry officials said rape convicts should be sentenced to life till death without any leniency or without parole.
Government had in December 4, 2012, introduced a bill in Parliament seeking to amend the Indian Penal Code, 1860, the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, and the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, by replacing the word 'rape' by the words 'sexual assault' to make the offence of sexual assault gender-neutral and also widening its scope. It proposes to enhance the punishment from the present seven years jail to life.
There was a general consensus on the definition of juvenile by bringing the age bar to 16 from 18 years in the conference.
One of the six accused in the Delhi gang rape case was juvenile and many people fear that he may escape punishment for the crime because of his juvenile status.
The Home Minister expressed concern over low rate of conviction in cases of crime against women saying there was a need for introspection by investigators, prosecution and all others concerned.
Shinde said over 2.38 lakh cases were registered for crime against women in 2009, chargesheets were filed in about 1.64 lakh cases and there were only 27,977 convictions.
More than 2.13 lakh cases were registered in 2010 leading to nearly 1.72 lakh chargesheets and 30,270 convictions.
In 2011, over 2.28 lakh cases were registered, 1.78 lakh chargesheets were filed and only 30,266 convictions secured.
"Why is conviction so low? Time has come to introspect. We have to find out what are the faults," Shinde told reporters.
The Home Minister said he told Chief Secretaries and DGPs to be very strict in cases of sexual harassment and atrocities on SCs and STs and intensify vigil through various ways, including motorcycle patrolling.
"We told them to take definitive measures to bring down the crime against women, SCs and STs and increase representation of women in police," he said.
Asked how long the Centre will take to make the law stringent as suggested by state governments, Shinde said "it will not take much time. As soon as Verma Committee submits its report suggesting toughening law, we will act," he said.
Asked about Women and Child Welfare Minister Krishna Tirath's suggestion that there should be death penalty for rape convicts, he said "we will consider every suggestion. Let's see. There are suggestions for strict punishment. We have to analyse. Verma Committee is also working on that".
Those who favoured death penalty for rape convict include representatives of Tamil Nadu government.
Shinde said steps would be taken to set up fast track courts for cases of crime against women and SCs and STs.
Earlier, inaugurating the conference, Shinde said crimes against women like rape are unacceptable and they need to be curbed with an iron hand.
He said the role of law enforcement agencies and the criminal justice system have come in for critical comment after the December 16 brutal gangrape and assault here of a 23-year-old woman who died in a Singapore hospital last week.
"These kinds of incidents against women and weaker sections of our society are unacceptable to our democracy. These need to be curbed with an iron hand," he said.
Shinde said that even after 65 years of country's independence, crimes against women and Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes have not declined despite having various legislations to check criminals.
"We need a reappraisal of the entire system, the role of all our stakeholders, the adequacy of our laws, the effectiveness of enforcement at the cutting edge level, the need for increased awareness and sensitivity starting at the school level and covering all people residing at the margins of our society," he said.