Verma panel says existing anti-rape laws enough, seeks police reforms
New Delhi: In a detailed and scathing report the three-member Justice JS Verma Committee has called for stricter implementation of existing laws, police reforms, gender sensitisation of the security agencies and judiciary along with several changes in the Indian Penal Code (IPC) to deal with crime against women particularly rape cases. In one of the most significant recommendations the Justice Verma Committee has proposed that if a woman ends up killing a rapist or a would-be rapist, she can claim the right to self defence under Section 100 of the IPC.
Despite calls for death penalty in rape cases, the committee declined to recommend death and instead suggested that the maximum punishment should be life imprisonment. The committee has also recommended against lowering the age criteria for juveniles accused of heinous crimes like rape.
Unlike several other committees which have failed to come up with their reports on time, the committee comprising of former chief justice of India JS Verma, former chief justice of Himachal Pradesh High Court Leila Seth and former Solicitor General of India Gopal Subramanian came up with detailed recommendations to deal with crimes against women including stalking, acid attacks, molestations and rapes.
A month after the brutal Delhi gangrape and murder, the Justice Verma Committee submitted its recommendations to check crimes against women on Wednesday. The report suggested changes in an entire gamut of laws to bring speedier justice for crimes against women.
The report slammed police apathy and pointed out that not even one Director General of Police from any state sent any recommendations even as the committee received almost 80,000 suggestions from different sections of the society. While addressing a press conference, Justice Verma declared that he was shocked to see the Delhi Police Commissioner Neeraj Kumar being patted on the back by Union Home Secretary RK Singh just a few days after the December 16, 2012 brutal gangrape of a 23-year-old paramedical student by six men inside a bus in the national capital.
The Justice Verma panel also the government and the public for failing to perform their duties while calling for police reforms and gender sensitisation of the force to deal with crimes against women. Justice Verma said there was hardly any response from DGPs and their appointment must be reviewed.
However, Justice Verma added that implementing the existing laws was sufficient to maintain law and order. "The existing laws if credibly implemented are sufficient and law enforcement agencies must not become tools at the hands of political masters. We have seen CBI changing its stand," added Justice Verma.
Justice Verma, who said there was a lukewarm response from the ministries, credited the youth for the response. "I'm greatly indebted to the youth. The report wouldn't have been possible without them," said Justice Verma.
Justice Verma said that every complaint of rape should be registered. "Most rape incidents are not reported and those reported may not be recorded. Insensitivity of police to deal with rape victims is well known. There should be special provisions for sexual assault of disabled persons," said Justice Verma.
He also said that sexual offences by armed forces and uniformed men in conflict areas should be brought under ordinary criminal law. The panel recommended that there is an imminent need to review AFSPA in conflict areas. The Verma Committee recommended appointment of Special Commissioners with adequate powers to redress complaints of sexual violence against women in conflict areas.
Taking a hard stand on khap panchayats, the panel said that khap panchayats don't enjoy sanction of law and called them "self-styled bodies". The panel report suggested, "Women have the right to choose whom they want to marry and not khaps."
Slamming the male police officers, the report said that they don't take rape cases seriously. "Large scale trafficking of women is taking place and the police including the CBI is aware of this malaise but they have done nothing about it," said the report.
Commenting on Delhi Police, the report said that Delhi Police is not under the ambit of Delhi government but the Lieutenant Governor. The report said the ambiguity should be removed to maintain responsibility. "There was total apathy on everyone's part. It's the state's duty to provide safe environment," said Justice Verma.
Justice Verma also called for modification in the proposed criminal law amendment act and suggested that all marriages should be registered.
Flaying the police for lathi charge on peaceful protesters, Justice Verma said that the police action on peaceful protestors scarred the Indian democracy. "Law enforcement shouldn't be tools of politicians, however, implementing the law strictly is a must to maintain order. Also, police reforms must be implemented" added Justice Verma.
The report also suggested reforms for missing children cases and said that authentic figures of missing children are unavailable. Justice Verma said, "Every district magistrate should prepare census of missing children. Every District Magistrate is responsible for making census of missing children. Juvenile homes are a breeding ground for sexual offences."
Justice Verma also called for making the journey in public transport safer and said that better streetlights would provide more safety.
Verma, the head of the three-member panel, was approached by the Central government for the task on December 23. The other members of the panel are former Himachal Pradesh Chief Justice Leila Seth and former Solicitor General Gopal Subramaniam. He said the failure of governance was the root cause of crime against women. He also said it was "equally shocking" that there was total apathy of everyone who had a duty to perform.
"We have submitted the report in 29 days. When I offered to do the work within 30 days, I did not realise the magnitude of the work," Verma told a press conference after submitting his voluminous report to the Home Ministry. He said the report may be known after him but it is the outcome of suggestions from people within India and outside the country.
"We received 80,000 suggestions," he said adding all of them were read and considered before finalising the report. On how he decided on a time frame for finalising the report, Verma said when a senior Cabinet Minister approached him on behalf of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, he asked him when is the next session of Parliament.
"The Minister told me that the (Budget) session will start on February 21. There were two months. So I decided lets do it in 30 days. If we are able to do it in half the time available, then the government with its might and resources should also act fast," he said.
He complimented the youth for the mature response. "Youth has taught us what we, the older generation, were not aware of. I was struck by the peaceful manner in which the protests were carried out.. the youth rose to the occasion," he said.
Specific Legal Amendments recommended by Justice Verma
1. Recommends including Rape as a Right of Private Defence of body (Amendment of Section 100 IPC, which is the Right to Self Defence Section).
2. Recommends non-registration of a rape complaint a criminal offence (Amendment of Section 166, which willful disobeying of a law by a government official).
3. Recommends recasting of section 354 of IPC (currently called outraging modesty of woman) and adding it to existing sections of rape and sexual assault.
4. New law proposed for Acid Attacks (by adding a section in IPC).
5. Recommends amending section 354 of IPC (currently outraging modesty of a woman) to include intentional touching of a woman in a sexual nature without consent of a woman and includes similar acts by way of words, gestures.
6. Recommends new section in IPC for laws against disrobing of a woman.
7. Recommends new section in IPC for Voyeurism.
8. Recommends new section in IPC for Stalking. Importantly stalking includes in electronic form as well, so cyber stalking is included.
9. Recommends new section called Trafficking in IPC. Includes trafficking of any human being.
10. Recommends separate provision of police officials involved in trafficking and proposes life term for them.
11. Recommends employing trafficked human Being an offence as well.
12. Recommends recognizing sexual offences against specially-abled, ailing and pregnant women and proposes enhanced punishment.
13. Recommends enhanced punishment in gang rape, and rapes committed by policemen, armed personnel, public servants.
14. Recommends amendments in Armed Forces Special Powers Act.
15. Recommends amendments in Representation of People's Act.