New Delhi: After differences in the Cabinet, the government's proposed anti-rape legislation has finally made some headway. A Group of Ministers (GoM) headed by Finance Minister P Chidambaram is likely to finalise the anti-rape Bill for Cabinet approval on Wednesday. The government is likely to stick to the gender specific word 'rape' not sexual assault, sources said.
Some in the Congress believe the ordinance in its present form could be objected to by the All India Muslim Personal Law Board. The government is calling for an all-party meet on March 18 to take the Opposition on board with the Bill.
The government fears that the Bill may face same fate as the Lokpal Bill and could be referred to a select committee. The Bill could be brought to Parliament on March 20.
Union Law Minister Ashwani Kumar has expressed confidence that the anti-rape Bill will be tabled in this session of Parliament. Speaking to IBN18 Editor-in-chief Rajdeep Sardesai, the minister refuted reports that there were fundamental differences within the Cabinet over its key provisions.
Several parties have reservations with definitions and possible misuse of the new set of laws but the government has said that it will bring the anti-rape law before March 22. "There is need to make the law civil, so that it's not used for corruption. We will bring this law before March 22 in this Budget session itself," said Union Law Minister Ashwani Kumar.
The Cabinet deferred the anti-rape Bill on Tuesday due to lack of unanimity. A group of ministers along with lawyers will now look into the points of differences and will come back to the Cabinet. The group of ministers met on Tuesday evening.
Sources said the government wanted to ensure that the Bill stood legal scrutiny. Meanwhile, despite the differences, the Law Minister said that he was confident that the proposed anti-rape Bill will be tabled in the ongoing Budget Session of Parliament.
Consensus has eluded the government specifically on clauses relating to the use of the term 'rape', voyeurism, and reducing the age of consent from 18 to 16 years. The Women and Child Welfare Minister Krishna Tirath has objected to the age of consent being reduced from 18 to 16 years. She was also opposed to the term 'sexual assault' being replaced by 'rape'.
Ashwani felt voyeurism and stalking could be used for false complaints and according to Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal, the Bill is 'too loose' and could be caught in legal hassles. The clock is ticking and if the ordinance that was passed isn't converted into law by April 14 before the end of the Budget Session of Parliament, it will lapse.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) said the government must sort out differences soon. "The whole country is waiting for a law to come. We are not concerned with the battle between two ministries," party leader Rajiv Pratap Rudy said.
The Criminal Law Amendment Bill for tough anti-rape laws was not discussed by the Cabinet last week after some amendments proposed by the Home Ministry ran into opposition. CNN-IBN learnt that the Law Ministry had sent some recommendations and had reservations about replacing the word sexual harassment with rape saying that this limits it to just women-related crimes.
The Law Ministry has also proposed that a victim of rape should not be denied treatment by any nearby private hospital after informing police and the victim should not be made to suffer further by being referred to a government hospital.
The fresh Bill will replace the ordinance on crimes against women promulgated last month. The proposal will replace the provision in the ordinance which has subscribed life imprisonment as the maximum punishment for those in authority committing rape. The person in authority has been described as a police officer, a doctor or a staffer of a hospital, a jailer or a warden of a remand home.
The fresh bill, which will also replace the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2012 introduced in the Lok Sabha in December last. The bill retains the provision that if rape leads to death of the victim or leaves her in a vegetative state, it can attract death penalty.
The proposed bill is incorporating most of the clauses which are part of the Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance 2013 promulgated on February 3 following the recommendations of the Justice JS Verma Commission, constituted in the wake of December 16 gangrape in Delhi. The shield given to the security personnel involved in crime against women in disturbed areas under the controversial AFSPA continue to remain, sources said. It also proposes enhanced punishment for other crimes against women like stalking, voyeurism, acid attacks, indecent gestures like words and inappropriate touch.
With additional information from PTI