Revised anti-rape bill set to clear Cabinet hurdle

The Union Cabinet is expected to clear the anti-rape bill on Thursday a day after the EGoM finalised changes to the controversial provisions of the draft.

Zeenews Bureau

New Delhi: The Union Cabinet is expected to clear the anti-rape bill on Thursday a day after the Empowered Group of Ministers (EGoM) led by Finance Minister P Chidambaram finalised changes to the controversial provisions of the draft.

According to reports, the EGoM also agreed to reduce the age of consent for sex from 18 to 16 years again.

The Union Cabinet will now take up the revised draft for discussion this evening.

The term sexual assault has also been replaced with rape, making the provision woman centric and gender specific. Under the revised draft, stalking and voyeurism have been made criminal offences. While stalking has been made a non-bailable offence, voyeurism is bailable conditionally.

The provisions for safeguarding against false complaints have been removed and sources say that for cases of sodomy of male or male child rape, the Prevention of Child Abuse Act will be amended.

The UPA government has already called for an all-party meet on Monday to take the Opposition on board with the bill.

If the Opposition agrees to the provisions of the revised anti-rape bill, it would then be sent to Parliament for debate on March 20.

Women and Child Development Minister Krishna Tirath had been opposing any move to lower the age of consent.

"We have gone through every provision of the proposed bill and all issues have been resolved. Now the matter will go to Cabinet and hopefully it will be passed on Thursday," Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal told reporters yesterday.

There have been many conflicting opinions on the new rape law and one of the main areas of conflict has been the lowering of the age of consent back to 16 as it was till 2012.

The Bill will replace Criminal Laws Ordinance promulgated on February 3 in the wake of public outrage over the December 16 Delhi gang-rape. The Ordinance has to be approved by Parliament before its recess from March 22, failing which it would lapse on April 4.

The GoM was set up in view of persisting differences among ministers on its provisions at the meeting of the Union Cabinet on Tuesday.
However, considering the urgency of the matter, the GoM was asked to submit its report on Wednesday so that the Bill could be brought before the Cabinet on Thursday.

On the issue of stalking and voyeurism, some ministers were of the view that the provisions would be "prone to misuse" and should only be incorporated after putting in place sufficient safeguards, including harsh penalty for lodging false cases. Stalking and voyeurism were for the first time defined as criminal offences in the Ordinance.

Some parties like the Samajwadi Party have serious reservations on certain provisions of the ordinance claiming they are prone to misuse. Lengthy inter-ministerial consultations had taken place on the issue of lowering of the age of consent from 18 years to 16 with the Women and Child Development Ministry strongly opposing the move.

The bill retains a key provision of the ordinance under which if rape leads to death of the victim or leaves her in a vegetative state, it can also attract death penalty. The minimum punishment is 20 years in jail which may extend upto the "natural life" of the convict.

With PTI inputs