Justice Verma Committee constituted to suggest amendments in laws for sexual
crimes today submitted its report to the Ministry of Home Affairs.
The three-member team led by former chief justice of India JS Verma was set
up by the government after the brutal gang-rape of a 23-year-old paramedical
student on a bus in Delhi last month.
The attack outraged the country and triggered protests demanding tougher laws
to punish rapists.
The committee received 80,000 suggestions from various women's groups,
jurists and other forums. Justice Verma committee also dealt with marital rape.
Here are some of the highlights of the Verma Committee Report
- Imminnent need to review AFSPA in conflict areas
- Sexual offences by armed forces and uniformed men in conflict areas should be brought under ordinary criminal law
- Recommends appointment of Special Commissioners with adequate powers to redress complaints of sexual violence against women in conflict areas
- Ambiguity over the control of Delhi Police should be cleared
- Delhi gang rape case shows the failures of traffic regulations, maintenance of law and order and dealing of sexual assault cases
- Every district magistrate should prepare census of missing children
- Police action on peaceful Delhi protesters scarred Indian democracy
Report Of The Committee On Amendments To Criminal Law by
'Shocked to See Home Secretary Praise Police Commissioner'
"The Commissioner of Police was given a pat on his back by no less than a person holding the post of Home Secretary. I was shocked to see that,"
Justice Verma told a press conference after submitting the report on measures to improve laws dealing with sexual offences against women.
He said the least he would have done was to seek an apology for the failure of the duty to protect citizens and "instead of that (what did we see)".
Home Secretary R K Singh faced the ire of the Justice J S Verma committee which said he should have sought an apology from the Delhi Police for failing to protect citizens instead of praising the force in the aftermath of the gangrape of a young girl.
Singh got the rap for his praise of Delhi Police Commissioner Neeraj Kumar after the force arrested six persons in connection with the
Commenting on the protests, Verma complimented the youth for their mature response. "Youth has taught us what we, the older generation, were not aware of. I was struck by the peaceful manner in which the protests were carried out...The youth rose to the occasion," he said.
However, the panel was critical of the police response to the protests after the incident. "The lathicharge on peaceful demonstrators after the December 16 gangrape has scarred the Indian democracy," it said.
The panel also noted the "peculiarity" of city government not having any control over Delhi Police, which reports to Union Home Ministry.
This is the reason given publicly by Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit for the absence of responsibility of her government, it said.
"This ambiguity must be removed forthwith so that there is no divided responsibility in Delhi in respect of maintenance of law and order. Such a step is also essential to maintain accountability," it said.
The panel was of the view that the "undisputed facts" related to the incident "unmistakably" disclose the failure of many public functionaries for traffic regulation, maintenance of law and
order and more importantly, "their low and skewed priority" in dealing with complaints of sexual assault.
The Panel said that disputes relating to the jurisdiction of the police over the area of the crime are often a cause of delay in initiating the process of taking cognisance of the crime and providing medical aid to the victim.
'MPs With Criminal Charges Should Quit Voluntarily'
Justice J S Verma Committee asked MPs and MLAs having heinous cases pending against them to voluntarily quit their seats as a mark of respect to Parliament, legislatures and the Constitution.
In its recommendations, the panel dealt with reforms in respect of political establishment and pitched for amendments in Representation of People Act, 1951 to deal with criminalisation of politics.
"We have suggested amendments to Section 33A requiring the making of a declaration about the pendency of any criminal case, whether cognisance has been taken of it. A certificate from the Registrar of the High Court should be necessary for the validity of the nomination.
"We also suggest that, in the event cognisance has been taken by a magistrate of an offence...The candidate ought to be disqualified from participating in the electoral process," it said.
Stiffer Punishment to Rapists But No Death
The Justice Verma Committee today recommended enhancing punishment of upto 20 years imprisonment for rape and murder and life for gang rape but refrained from suggesting death penalty.
New offences have been created and stiffer punishment has been suggested those committing it like leaving the victim in a vegetative state. The new offences include disrobing a woman, voyeurism, stalking and trafficking.
The present law provides for punishment for rapists of imprisonment ranging from seven years to life.
Justice Verma said that the Committee has not suggested death penalty for rapist because there was overwhelming suggestions from the women organisations against it, a point that was received with thunderous applause from activists at the media interaction.
The Committee did not recommend death penalty for rape because it was a "regressive step" and it "may not have a deterrent effect".
"We have not recommended death penalty as we had overwhelming suggestions against it. The women groups unanimously were against death penalty and that is why we thought that is a strong reason to respect that view particularly in view of the modern trend also," Justice Verma said.
'Castration Is Unconstitutional'
The Verma Committee rejected the suggestion of chemical castration of rapists as it considered handing down such a punishment would violate human rights and that mutilation of the body is not permitted under the Constitution.
"We note that it would be unconstitutional and inconsistent with basic human rights treaties for the state to expose any citizen without their consent to potentially dangerous medical side effects."
"For this reason, we do not recommend mandatory chemical castration of any type as a punishment for sex offenders. For the same reason, the Government of India does not prescribe chemical castration as a family planning method," the 3-member panel said in its report.
"We are further of the opinion that chemical castration fails to treat the social foundations of rape which is about power and sexually deviant behaviour. We, therefore, hold that mandatory chemical castration as a punishment contradicts human rights standards.
"We, therefore, reject the possibility of chemical castration as a means of punishment. We must take on record a suggestion from a leading doctor for permanent surgical castration. We think mutilation of the body is not permitted by the Constitution," the committee said.
Death is a known form of penalty but mutilation has not been recognised in progressive jurisprudence as prescribed punitive action, the committee said as it recommended further research and study in this matter.
'Need Not Lower Juvenile Age From 18'
The panel is of the opinion that the age of the juvenile under the Juvenile Justice Act need not be lowered from the present 18.
There has been strong demand that the age of a juvenile should be brought down to 16 in view of the fact that the minor accused in the Delhi gangrape allegedly behaved in the most brutal way.
Other Changes Suggested
Among the amendments proposed is a change in Section 100 of the IPC dealing with right of private defence which extends to causing death.
Taking note of the brutality committed in the Delhi gang rape incident, the Committee suggested replacement of Section 375 defining rape by defining specific unnatural acts.
Intentional touching will constitute the offence of sexual assault for which punishment will be a maximum of five years rigorous imprisonment or fine or both.
Use of words, gestures which create an unwelcome threat of sexual nature or advance would invite a maximum punishment of one year imprisonment or fine or both.
Committee member Gopal Subramanium said the Juvenile Justice Act has been a total failure and condition of the juvenile homes were pathetic.
"When you read our report you will find we have extracted from the reports of the National Commission for Protection of Children and you will be shocked to see the unimaginable things juveniles have to do there...," he said.
The panel suggested that the Chief Justice of the High Court of every state should device appropriate machinery for administration and supervision of these juvenile homes in consultation with experts in the field.
The Committee also said all marriages in the country -- irrespective of the personal laws under which such marriages are solemnised -- should mandatorily be registered in the presence of a magistrate and the magistrate will ensure that the marriage has been solemnised without any demand for dowry having been made and that the marriage has taken place with the full and free consent of both partners.
The panel suggested medical examination of victims of sexual assault which were prepared on the basis of the best practices advised by global experts in the field of gynaecology and psychology.