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Verma panel report: PM promises action

Posted on Jan 30, 07:39PM | IBNS

New Delhi, Jan 30 : Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Wednesday said the government will be 'prompt' in pursuing the recommendations of Justice Verma Committee on stringent laws against sexual violence. Singh has written to Justice (Retd) J.S. Verma on the report submitted by the Committee on Amendments to Criminal Law.

In his letter, the PM said: "I am writing to thank you, Justice (Smt.) Leila Seth and Shri Gopal Subramanian for your labour of love in completing the work of the Committee our government had constituted to recommend amendments in Law to be able to deal effectively with cases of sexual assault of extreme nature against women."

"That the Committee submitted its report within a short period of 30 days is testimony to your commitment and concern for the public good. On behalf of our government, I assure you that we will be prompt in pursuing the recommendations of the Committee," he said.

Flaying the law enforcers and calling for police reforms, the Justice Verma Committee tasked by the government to suggest stringent laws against sexual violence submitted its "path-breaking" recommendations on Jan 23 to the Home Ministry, calling for enhancement of punishment to life sentence for the crime while stopping short of awarding death penalty.

The commission acknowledged the contributions of the nation's youth in bringing the crime on the national agenda for change and booed the insensitivity of authorities in tackling the issue.

The panel also recognised voyeurism, disrobing, touching, stalking, eve-teasing as offences that are punishable, drawing applause from the women's groups and citizens many of whom hailed it as a modern document in keeping with the times and a sort of Magna Carta of laws against sexual violence.

It also recognized the discrimination against the lesbians, homosexuals and transgender people calling such acts as unconstitutional as well.

The Verma Commission said the punishment for causing death or a permanent vegetative state of the victim shall be rigorous imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than 20 years but may be for life in real sense.

It said gang-rape shall be punishable of not less than 20 years and can also go up to life sentence.

The panel called for even 7 years term for voyeurism while also dwelt on sexual assaults and rapes in the conflict zones by men in uniform (read army).

"Impunity of systematic sexual violence is being legitimised by the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA)," it said and asked for reviews of such laws.

The panel also dwelt on child trafficking and suggested that trafficking of minor children must be made a serious offence with punishment which can go up to ten years from a minimum of seven years.

The three-member committee headed by former Chief Justice of India J S Verma submitted its report to the government a month after it was formed following a national outrage over the brutal gang-rape of a 23-year-old medical student on a Delhi bus on Dec 16 and her subsequent death from the injuries.

Justice Leila Seth, former Chief Justice of Himachal Pradesh High Court, and former Solicitor General of India Gopal Subramanian, are the other two members of the committee.

Justice Verma minced no words when he said "I was shocked" to see the Home Secretary pat the back of the Delhi police commissioner for investigation in the Delhi gang-rape case when he should have ideally asked for apology for failing to protect citizens.

"You have all these laws but if they had not worked by the people with sensitivity required.... the most perfect laws also will remain ineffective, without the efficiency and individual virtuosity of the human agency for implementing the laws," he said.

He also reminded the fundamental duties of all citizens and said it was also shocking that large number of people passed by without helping the girl and her companion help after they were thrown out of the bus following the brutal assault.

While he praised the youth of India for their matured response and controlled anger to the incident, he said the various ministries and government bodies actually responded late with some responses coming "as late as yesterday."

"We got lukewarm responses from some behind setting up of the committee. Got no response from DGPs (Director General of Police)," Justice Verma said.

He said it is the duty of the state to provide 'safe environment' environment to women and 'failure to do this renders it accountable'.

Justice Verma said: "States' role is not just to punish criminals but to prevent crimes against women."

He blamed on misgovernance for the condition of women in India.

Justice Verma said he was moved by the mature response of the youth of the country who led the movement peacefully and was overwhelmed by the inputs from abroad even in some cases without asking.

"It was humbling experience for all of us who are of an older generation," he said referring to the maturity and endeavour of the youths.

About 80,000 suggestions were received by the committee in less than a month.

Justice Verma said the report was completed ahead of time in just one month so that the government with all its resources is prompted to take it up in next session of Parliament in February.

"We got 80,000 questions from various quarters, our response was to the outcry on the failure of governance," Justice Verma said.

He also blamed on lack of good governance that led to such sexual attacks.

Justice Verma said the existing laws were sufficient but they have to be implemented.

He said the police reforms should be implemented.

Justice Leila Seth said: "Education has to begin at work and at home.....Mindset of the judiciary also has to be improved.

The panel also spoke out against Khap panchayats controlling women's choice and asked for complete liberation of women to choose their partners.

"How can Khap panchayats rule against marriages made of free choice?" asked Leila Seth.

The panel uses words like sexual autonomy of women and even recognized the rights of transsexuals and homosexuals based on scientific reasoning.

It recognized the menace of marital rape and sexual attacks on children at home.

"We have also looked at physical sexual and psychological violence in the family - including marital rape," said Justice Gopal Subarmanium.

The panel said every policeman is bound to obey the law and said the alibi of orders of superior will not hold water anymore reminding every cop to follow their statutory duty.

The panel said the pressure must be kept on the government and called for transparency and accountability of the authorities.

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) had requested the public in general and particularly eminent jurists, legal professionals, NGOs, women's groups and civil society members to share with the committee their views, knowledge and experience suggesting possible amendments in the criminal laws and other relevant laws to provide for quicker investigation, prosecution and trial as also enhanced punishment for criminals accused of committing sexual assault of extreme nature against women.

According to reports, the ruling Congress has suggested the committee that rapists should be given life imprisonment and death sentence should be reserved only for rarest of rare cases.