MHA prepares for inter-ministerial talks on criminal law bill

The Home Ministry is moving fast to hold inter-ministerial consultations on the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill.

New Delhi: The Home Ministry is moving fast to hold inter-ministerial consultations on the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill it proposes to bring before Union Cabinet for approval.

Sources said the Home Ministry wants a consensus on certain changes it has proposed in the bill which were not in the ordinance on crimes against women promulgated last month.

"The bill has to stand the scrutiny of Parliament and later judiciary. A consensus is must for the government before moving ahead. In all likelihood, the draft bill will not undergo major changes now and would soon before Cabinet," a source said here.

The bill will replace the February 3 ordinance.

There were strong speculation that the bill could be added to the agenda of today`s Cabinet. But it did not figure in the list amid efforts by the MHA to hold more consultations.

The changes include making rape gender specific and doing away with the concept of `sexual assault` which is more gender neutral.

The other proposal is replacing the provision in the ordinance which has subscribed life imprisonment as the maximum punishment for those in authority committing rape.

The Home Ministry draft has suggested that the age of consent be lowered from 18 to 16. But some have argued that it should not be reduced. But sources insisted that the issue would be resolved soon.

Sexual intercourse under the age of consent is considered statutory rape.

Now, a person in authority convicted of rape will have to spend rest of his "natural life" in jail.

The person in authority has been described as a police officer, a personnel of the armed forces, a doctor or a staffer of a hospital, a jailer or a warden of a remand home.

A fresh proposal now makes it mandatory for all government and private hospitals in the country to provide free medical treatment to women victims of any form of sexual violence.

The refusal to do so will now be a criminal offence and attract a one-year jail term for top bosses and the staff on duty of hospitals found guilty of turning away victims of sexual violence needing immediate medical care.