New Delhi: The government on Monday defended its decision to pass an ordinance on sexual harassment saying there was an urgent need for amending the criminal law. Union Minister P Chidambaram addressed a press conference on Monday and announced the measures taken up by the government in the ordinance.
Chidambaram rejected claims that the recommendations of the Justice JS Verma panel have been rejected. He said, "As we were expected to be prompt, we have brought this ordinance. Marital rape a difficult issue in which we need more consultations. Some clauses like AFSPA need more discussions."
Chidambaram said that the government welcomed the suggestions from public to replace ordinance with a bill in Parliament. "There will be debate, consultation with political parties, which will give ample opportunities to reflect broadest perspective. The government wishes to assure everyone that further consultations will take place."
The minister also clarified that some recommendations of Justice JS Verma panel have not been incorporated because of divergence of opinion. "It is not correct to say that Justice Verma Committee report has not been accepted. The ordinance is only the starting point of legislative process. Justice Verma also agreed to the 22 clauses put in ordinance yesterday," said Chidambaram.
He also said that the Cabinet approved a draft ordinance and advised President Pranab Mukherjee to promulgate the ordinance. He said, "The death penalty exists in Indian law for several offences. The Supreme Court says where death is a punishment it can be awarded in rarest cases, we have kept that principle. One where the rape is followed by injury that causes death, causes the person in a vegetative state, or repeats the crime of rape."
On Juvenile Justice Act, Chidambaram said that this is a separate law that deals with any offence committed by juvenile. "Whether the age should be reduced for certain kind of offences has to be considered very carefully," clarified the Union Minister.
Reacting to recent comments by the Opposition, Chidambaram said, "We have been completely faithful of Justice Verma panel report, don't understand what is the eye wash."
Talking about the juvenile accused in Delhi gang rape, he said, "Criminal law cannot apply in retrospective. Whatever changes we make they will apply to crimes made post making the law and will not apply to crimes that have already occurred, that is the constitution of the country."
"If the family of the victim demanded that the Juvenile Act should be amended, I can understand their sentiment, but opinions differ. Opinions are so divergent then we should kept that aside for the time being and discuss it in Parliament," stated Chidambaram.
Speaking on death penalty, he said, "Death penalty remains debatable. In India the death penalty applies only in the rarest of rare cases."
Speaking about the police forces, Chidambaram said, "We are taking measures to make police sensitive to gender issues. Can't promise change over night."