January 24, 2013
 Verma panel says no to death penalty
 Don’t allow army men to take cover under AFSPA, says Verma
The Justice Verma Committee formed to look into crimes against women on Wednesday ruled against recommending the death penalty even in the rarest of the rare rape cases, and also did not favour lowering the age of a juvenile from 18 to 16.
The committee, which was tasked with suggesting legal reforms to deal with sexual assault cases, however said the minimum sentence for a rapist should be enhanced from 7 years to 10 and that life imprisonment must always mean jail for ‘the entire natural life of the convict’. It has also recommended forming a new constitutional authority like the CAG for dealing with issues related to education and non-discrimination of women and children.
Full text of Justice Verma’s report (PDF)
Presenting the report on ‘Amendments to Criminal Law’, Mr. Verma said at a time when there were talks of abolishing the death sentence, the committee has “enhanced the punishment to mean the remainder of life”. An overwhelming majority of scholars and women’s organisations told the committee they were strongly against death penalty.
After the gangrape and death of the para-medical student in Delhi last month that led to a nationwide uproar, Union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde had said that the government favoured death sentence in the rarest of the rare rape cases.
He had then announced formation of a three-member committee headed by the former Chief Justice of India, with former Chief Justice of Himachal Pradesh Justice Leila Seth and former Solicitor General of India Gopal Subramaniam as its members.
“According to the Working Group on Human Rights, the murder rate has declined consistently in India over the last 20 years despite the slowdown in the execution of death sentences since 1980. Hence we do take note of the argument that introduction of death penalty for rape may not have a deterrent effect,” the Committee recommended.
The Committee also said that in the proposed Criminal Law Amendment Bill, 2012, the minimum sentence for punishment for rape should be enhanced to a minimum of 10 years (currently it is 7 years) with maximum punishment being life imprisonment.
The Committee said castration would be unconstitutional and inconsistent with basic human rights treaties to expose any citizen without their consent to potentially dangerous medical side effects.
On the issue of reducing the age of a juvenile from 18 to 16, Mr. Verma said: “Assuming that a person at the age of 16 is sent to life imprisonment, he would be released sometimes in the mid-30s. There is little assurance that the convict would emerge a reformed person.”
The Committee has criticised lack of reformatory and rehabilitation policies in jails and juvenile homes.
“Personnel guilty of sexual offences in conflict areas should be tried under ordinary criminal law”
The Justice J.S. Verma Committee, set up to suggest amendments to laws relating to crimes against women, has recommended review of the continuance of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) in the context of extending legal protection to women in conflict areas.
“There is an imminent need to review the continuance of the AFSPA and AFSPA-like legal protocols in internal conflict areas as soon as possible,” it said. “This is necessary for determining the propriety of resorting to this legislation in the area(s) concerned.”
Full text of Justice Verma’s report (PDF)
In its report submitted to the Union Home Ministry on Wednesday, committee member Gopal Subramaniam said going by the testimonies of the people from Jammu and Kashmir, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh and the North-East, it was evident that there was a pressing need to try armed forces personnel guilty of sexual offences in conflict areas under the ordinary criminal law.
Taking cognisance of the complaints and reports of sexual assaults on women by men in uniform and the civil society’s demand for repeal of the AFSPA, the committee recommend an immediate resolution of “jurisdictional issues.” Simple procedural protocols must be put in place to avoid situations where the police refuse to register cases against paramilitary personnel.
It cited the Supreme Court’s recent observation that security forces should not be able to take cover under the AFSPA in cases of rape and sexual assault. “Systematic or isolated sexual violence, in the process of Internal Security duties, is being legitimised by the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, which is in force in large parts of our country,” the committee said.
Stressing that women in conflict areas were entitled to all the security and dignity that was afforded to citizens in any other part of the country, the committee recommended bringing sexual violence against women by members of the armed forces or uniformed personnel under the purview of ordinary criminal law; taking special care to ensure the safety of women who are complainants and witnesses in cases of sexual assault by the armed forced; and setting up special commissioners for women’s safety and security in all areas of conflict in the country.
The commissioners must be vested with adequate powers to monitor and initiate action and initiate criminal prosecution. Care must be taken to ensure the safety and security of women detainees in police stations, and women at army or paramilitary check points. “This should be a subject under the regular monitoring of the special commissioners mentioned earlier,” the committee said.
It also recommended strict adherence to laws related to detention of women during specified hours of the day. It said measures to ensure their security and dignity would not only go a long way in providing women in conflict areas their rightful entitlements, but also restore their confidence in the administration.