New Delhi: Making far reaching recommendations, the Justice Verma Committee on Wednesday favoured comprehensive amendments to criminal laws seeking minimum 20 years imprisonment for gang rape and life term for rape and murder but refrained from prescribing death penalty.
However, the three-member Committee headed by former Chief Justice JS Verma, which was constituted in the wake of the nationwide outrage over the December 16 gang rape of a girl in Delhi, is not in favour of reducing the age of juveniles under the law.
Nor did the Committee favour chemical castration of rapists saying the Constitution of India does not permit mutilation of a human body.
In its 630-page report to the government submitted today, the Committee has suggested amendment of criminal laws to provide for higher punishment to rapists, including those belonging to police and public servants.
New offences have been created and stiffer punishment has been suggested for those committing rape and leaving the victim in a vegetative state. They include disrobing a woman, voyeurism, stalking and trafficking.
Sexual misconduct also includes intentional touching, spoken words and gestures made as advances.
The present law provides for punishment of rapists imprisonment ranging from seven years to life in jail. For the first time, the minimum punishment is sought to be raised to 20 years in some cases.
The panel's view on juvenile's age assumed significance in the context of strong demands for lowering the age from 18 to 16 against the backdrop of the allegation that one of the six accused is said to be a juvenile.
The Committee, comprising a former High Court Chief Justice Leila Seth and jurist Gopal Subramanium, also traversed various areas in a bid to check crimes against women seeking disqualification of MPs and MLAs charged with heinous crimes like rape, measures to check khap panchayats and trial of personnel of security forces under ordinary criminal laws and not under AFSPA.
Addressing a press conference, Justice Verma came down heavily on Union Home Secretary R K Singh for praising Delhi Police Commissioner after the Delhi gang rape instead of coming out with an apology.
It also attacked police for the lathicharge on young demonstrators in the capital last month which it said had scarred democracy.
Releasing the report, Justice Verma told a news conference 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.
Even while it recommended amendments to various laws and enhancement of punishment, the panel concluded that existing laws if faithfully and efficiently implemented by credible law enforcement agencies or sufficient to protect the safety and dignity of people particularly of women and punish offenders.
"This is not to suggest that the necessary improvements in law, keeping in mind modern times, should not be enacted at the earliest," it said.
The Committee also said speedy justice was necessary for right to life with dignity and recommended that systemic changes could reduce burden of arrears in courts. The judge strength can be increased in phases while retired eminent retired judges could be appointed on adhoc basis.
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.
Causing grievous hurt through use of acid on women shall also be punished with rigorous imprisonment for not less than 10 years but could go upto life.
The Committee said the Delhi gang rape incident has disclosed the failure of many public functionaries responsible for traffic regulation, maintenance of law and order and more importantly, their low and skewed priority of dealing with complaints of sexual assault.
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.
The panel said the peculiarity of the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi not having any control over the police force, which control vests only in the Ministry of Home Affairs is the reason given publicly by the Delhi Chief Minister for the absence of responsibility of her government.
"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 Committee also took note of the apathy of civil society and mentioned about the inaction of passers-by and bystanders, who failed in their citizenship duty of rendering help to the Delhi gang rape victim and her companion who were lying badly injured and disrobed on the roadside for a considerable amount of time.
"Misbehaviour of the police towards any samaritan is often the cause for such apathy. But this must not deter citizens from doing their duty. A change in the behaviour of the citizenry will also improve the conduct of the police. This effort must be promoted," it said.