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Sunday, 22 April 2018 | Pioneer News Service | New Delhi– The Centre on Saturday passed an Ordinance making sexual offences against women, in particular girls below 16 years, punishable with terms varying from 20 years to life-term and even death in case of rape of girls below 12 years. The Cabinet cleared the proposed law in a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday and referred it to the President for approval. The bold move by the Centre has come in response to a series of incidents involving rape and murder of girls reported from Kathua in Jammu & Kashmir, Surat in Gujarat and the latest incident reported on Saturday from Indore in Madhya Pradesh involving a four-month-old infant. Lately, the BJP-ruled Government in Uttar Pradesh too faced the ignominy on this account following rape charges leveled by a 17-year minor against BJP MLA Kuldeep Singh Sengar, currently in custody following arrest by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in connection with this case. For those accused of raping minors below 16 years, the Ordinance makes no provision for protection from arrest by way of anticipatory bail, making the new law draconian. It prescribes the concerned trial court to give notice of 15 days to a public prosecutor and the representative of the victim before deciding bail applications in such cases. Also, the proposed law sets new time limits for investigation in rape cases to conclude in two months, trial in such cases within another two months, and a six-month-deadline for disposal of appeal by the High Court. By the Criminal Law Amendment Ordinance, relevant provisions relating to sexual offences against women and children under the Indian Penal Code (IPC), the Evidence Act, the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), and the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act will automatically stand amended. This is the second time within a span of six years since the 2012 Nirbhaya rape case the criminal law on rape is being comprehensively amended. Then, the provision of death penalty was introduced in cases where the victim either died or was left in a “vegetative state” after rape. The Government has chosen to take the route of Ordinance without waiting to make amendments to the individual laws till the Monsoon Session of Parliament commences in July. The move became imperative as Prime Minister Narendra Modi had last week indicated that the incidents of rape are a “national shame” and his Government will not spare in making every attempt to get justice to the daughters of the country affected by such heinous crimes. According to Law Ministry sources, provisions have been introduced under the Ordinance for setting up new fast-track courts and appoint public prosecutors to ensure speedy trial in rape cases. Special forensic kits are being planned in the long run to be supplied to all police stations and hospitals, to ensure scientific probe in order to minimise rate of acquittals due to shoddy probe. In addition, one specialised forensic lab in each State has also been mooted as part of a three-month vision project. Explaining the other provisions contained in the Ordinances, Ministry officials confirmed that the minimum punishment for rape of a woman under IPC Section 376 has been increased from rigorous imprisonment of seven years to 10 years, extendable up to life imprisonment. Where rape is of a girl below 16 years, the minimum punishment has been increased from the existing 10 years to 20 years, extendable up to imprisonment for remaining period of the convict’s “natural” life. If the girl is a child under 12 years, the minimum jail term will be 20 years extending to remaining life in prison or even death sentence, officials added. In cases of gangrape of a girl below 16 years, the punishment will invariably be imprisonment for the rest of life of the convict. The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) will maintain a national database and profile of sexual offenders and share real time data with all States and Union Territories periodically for effective tracking on antecedents of such offenders and investigation of cases. The present scheme of ‘One Stop Centres’ for assistance to victim will also be extended to all districts in the country. “An ordinance today is the best way to deal with the issue. An amendment Bill will have to wait (till July) when the Monsoon Session of Parliament commences,” a Law Ministry official said.

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