NO death penalty for Rapists .. Zeenews Bureau
New Delhi: The Justice JS Verma Committee, which on Wednesday made several recommendations and amendments to laws relating to crimes against women, did not approve a death penalty for rape offences.
The three-member panel, which submitted its report to the Home Ministry, declined to recommend a death penalty for rapists, saying the existing laws were enough to deal with such offences though amendments were needed.
The panel declining to recommend death for rapists fell short of people's demand for giving a capital sentence to those found guilty in rarest of rare cases of crimes.
The committee instead suggested that the maximum punishment should be life imprisonment for the convicted rapists.
Among other significant recommendations, the Justice Verma Committee proposed that if a woman ends up killing a rapist or a would-be rapist, she can claim the right to self defence under Section 100 of the IPC.
The committee also recommended against lowering the age criteria for juveniles accused of heinous crimes like rape.
The committee was set up a week after the horrific December 16 gang-rape of a para-medical student in Delhi which shook the entire nation and led to widespread protests.
Addressing the press after submitting the report, Justice Verma said the youth of the country have shown the way and contributed most towards change.
"We are greatly indebted to the youth... but for them the issue would not have come out," Justice Verma said.
"They have protested in a mature manner. I was struck by the peaceful manner in which people not known to each other protested. I won't call it a movement but spontaneous protest."
"The youth have taught us, the older generation, something which we were not aware," Justice Verma added.
The youth of the country is aware, this is just beginning of real change and I am sure it will pick momentum, he said.
He said the committee received suggestions not only from within India but also from outside the country. Among the contributors were professors from the Oxford and Harvard Universities, a judge from Australia and the Chief Justice of the Canadian Supreme Court.
"The committee acknowledges that some people from foreign countries volunteered and helped. I myself can't believe how this was done in 29 days," he told reporters.
Justice Verma said in response to the Home Ministry's public notice on the direction of the Committee, nearly 80,000 responses were received.
He rued the lukewarm responses received from the ministries, states and the Centre.
He said the committee engaged in in-depth global research, analysed past judgements and public policies before finalising the report. He lauded the extensive research done by the lawyers.
Justice Verma further said the urgency of the matter impelled the committee to finish the task within a timeframe of 30 days.
"What we can do in one month, the government with all its might should be able to do in half the time."
Talking about the specifics of the report, Justice Verma said they focused not only on measures needed to prevent such incidents but also on measures to cure the malady.
He expressed hope that Parliament will take legislative action on suggestions made by the Committee.
According to Justice Verma, failure of good governance is to be blamed for breakdown of rule of law and violence against women.
"Deficiency of gender bias, that cannot be overcome by laws, has to be overcome by administration," he added.
Justice Verma said he was shocked to see the Union Home Secretary patting the back of Delhi Police Commissioner days after the incident.
"The least I would have done was to seek an apology for failure to protect citizens whose safety was entrusted to me," he stated.
"There was total apathy of everyone who had a duty to perform," Justice Verma said on the Delhi gang-rape incident.
He stressed that what is needed to enforce laws is the sensitivity on the part of those who implement it.
Justice Verma said equally shocking was the public apathy and the fact that no one stopped to help the Delhi braveheart and her male friend. "It is an indictment of 'us' as people."
"It is everyone's duty to renounce practices like not helping the people in need," he added.
Justice Verma said the state is responsible for any inaction that may cause or violate human rights. The state's role is not just punishing criminals but also to prevent crimes against women, he added.
"The duty of the state is to provide a safe environment to women and failure to do this renders it accountable," Justice Verma stated.
He also rued the fact state police chiefs did not respond when the Committee asked for suggestions from all quarters of the society.
Justice Verma noted that rape, sexual assault, eve-teasing and stalking are matters of serious concern, which are being tolerated by the society.
The right to be protected from sexual harassment and assault is guaranteed by the Constitution, he added.
He also said that every citizen was entrusted with the task to make sure women are safe.
He said a positive response to the tragedy which triggered the government to take up this task will be the real tribute to the Delhi gang-rape victim.
Noted jurist Gopal Subramaniam, who is one of the members of the committee, said the panel has recommended introduction of a new offence of trafficking.
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"Tracking of children must be made a serious offence," Subramaniam said.
Listing out the main recommendations of the panel report, Justice Verma said existing laws if efficiently implemented are sufficient to check crimes. This is not to say necessary improvements should not be made in laws.
He said speedy justice was essential to efficacy of law. Judges' strength can be increased in a phased manner without compromising with the quality, he added.
Further, more effective control of subordinate judiciary by higher courts is required.
Justice Verma said law enforcement agency like the CBI must be insulated from external pressures. "They must not become a tool in the political hands."
Transparency in performance by all institutions of governance is required, Justice Verma said.
He added that the jurisdiction of police should be made clear. Ambiguity over the control of Delhi Police should be cleared, he added.
Verma committee said police action on peaceful protestors had scarred the Indian democracy.
Delhi gang-rape case shows the failures of traffic regulations, maintenance of law and order and dealing of sexual assault cases, the committee said in its report.
Justice Verma said the committee has stressed on the 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," the committee said.
The Verma Committee has further recommended appointment of Special Commissioners with adequate powers to redress complaints of sexual violence against women in conflict areas.