Government defends sexual crime ordinance
New Delhi, Feb 4 : The government Monday defended its decision to issue an ordinance on sexual assault, saying it has an open mind to other suggestions that might follow.
"Ordinance is only the starting point of a legislative process and it is not yet complete," Finance Minister P. Chidambaram told media here.
He said the government came to the conclusion that there is a strong case for the ordinance in view of universal demand by people.
"The government wishes to assure everyone that further consultations will take place and there will be discussions with political parties," Chidambaram said.
He added that there would be a debate in parliament when the relevant bill is introduced. "The government welcomes suggestions from public to replace the ordinance with a bill in parliament," he said.
The clarification came a day after President Pranab Mukherjee gave his assent to the ordinance despite appeals from women's groups to wait till there was a broader consensus on issues related to women's safety.
Chidambaram said there were "difficult issues" arising out of the suggestions made by the panel headed by former Supreme Court chief justice J.S. Verma.
He said the government had tried to act promptly after justice Verma's recommendations came in, and issued the ordinance Friday on the basis of a "broad consensus".
"The bill will reflect the broadest possible consensus on imperatives and urgent need to have an effective law to protect women and to punish the guilty," he said.
On reservations expressed by women's groups on certain issues, Chidambaram said the government has not included some clauses recommended by the Verma panel but has not rejected anything.
"Some clauses like AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act), marital rape and lowering the age of juveniles need more discussions," he said.
He said the government is hopeful that the stringent provisions of the ordinance will deter potential criminals.
Talking about the benefits of the ordinance, Chidambaram said: "The ordinance will amend criminal law. The amendments are intended to protect a victim's dignity, curb police excesses and facilitate better evidence recording."
Calling for all political parties to support the government in getting the bill passed, Chidambaram said: "I hope other parties see this in a sensitive manner. I request the opposition to help us build broader consensus on anti-rape laws."
Speaking on the issue, Information and Broadcasting Minister Manish Tewari said: "If there are objections, the government will look into them with a positive framework and take into consideration whatever is necessary."
The ordinance calls for enhanced punishment in cases of crimes against women, including sexual assault, acid attacks, voyeurism and trafficking.
The ordinance was largely based on the recommendations of the Justice Verma Committee, set up by the government Dec 23, 2012, in the wake of the public outrage over the gruesome gang-rape of a 23-year-old trainee physiotherapist Dec 16.
It submitted its report to the government Jan 23.