New Delhi: Rape that leads to death of the victim or leaving her in a vegetative state can now attract death penalty under an ordinance cleared by the Union Cabinet on Friday night in a bid to fast-track stringent amendments to the criminal laws to check crime against women.
The ordinance, based on the recommendations of the Justice JS Verma Committee and going beyond, proposes to replace the word `rape` with `sexual assault` to expand the definition of all types of sexual crimes against women.
It also proposes enhanced punishment for other crimes against women like stalking, voyeurism, acid attacks, indecent gestures like words and inappropriate touch and brings into its ambit `marital rape`.
The Union Cabinet, at a specially-convened meeting just three weeks ahead of the Budget Session of Parliament, went beyond the Verma Committee`s recommendation by providing for capital punishment in the cases where rape leads to death of the victim or leaves her in "persistent vegetative state".
In such cases, the minimum punishment will be 20 years in jail which can be extended to the natural life of the convict or death, sources said, adding discretion will be with the court.
Being brought against the backdrop of the gang-rape and brutal assault of a 23-year-old girl in Delhi in December, the ordinance entails changes in the criminal law by amending Indian Penal Code (IPC), Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) and the Evidence Act.
The government will now recommend to President Pranab Mukherjee to promulgate the ordinance with immediate effect.
"We believe that this is a progressive piece of legislation and is consistent with felt sensitivities of the nation in the aftermath of outrageous gang-rape in Delhi," Law Minister Ashwani Kumar said.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had on Wednesday assured Justice Verma, a former Chief Justice of India, that the government would be prompt in pursuing the recommendations of the committee he headed.
The Verma committee had not suggested lowering the legally defined age of "juvenile" from 18 to 16 years, a demand by women activists after one of the accused in the Delhi gang-rape was found to be below 18 years of age.
In its recommendations, the committee came down heavily on the administration, including police and citizens, for not helping the grievously wounded young woman and her male friend who were thrown off the bus after the gang-rape.
It also took an open dig at the "peculiarity" of the Delhi government of not having the power over police in the city and said this "ambiguity" needs to be removed to maintain law and order and ensure accountability.