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Anti-rape bill is in a mess; UPA is a house on fire

Last updated on: March 13, 2013 03:20 IST

Anti-rape bill is in a mess; UPA is a house on fire

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The UPA government is far from a consensus over the anti-rape bill even as it is in a rush to have it passed in Parliament. Renu Mittal reports

The Union cabinet is virtually split down the middle over the anti-rape bill with a minister describing it as "TADA ka Baap" and a number of ministers opposing various aspects of the bill even.

The United Progressive Alliance government needs to pass the bill by April 14 to avoid its anti-rape ordinance from lapsing.

Following the differences, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh set up a Group of Ministers which met on Tuesday evening to dissect and streamline the bill. Another meeting will be held on Wednesday after which it would come before the Cabinet on Thursday.

After the approval, an all-party meeting would be called on March 18 and the bill is likely to be tabled on March 20. The Parliament will go for a one month recess from March 22.

Apart from senior ministers, many of whom are lawyers, who are opposing key provisions of the bill, the UPA's allies are also against the bill.

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Photographs: Reuters

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While Nationalist Congress Party's Praful Patel expressed his unhappiness, the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party have opposed the bill. The Bharatiya Janata Party has also shown reservation on some aspects.

A Union minister said the bill will not be passed by Parliament in the present form and that the language needs to be tightened and certain safeguards included, as in its present form it is 'draconian' to say the very least and is liable to be misused in a big way.

While the ordinance was drafted by Home Ministry officials, senior ministers say that the corrections should have been made at that stage. Now it would look like the government is retreating on key provisions and show it in a poor light, politically.

Particularly since there is enormous pressure from women's organizations, NGOs and others to come out with a tough law which they say should leave no loopholes for the accused.

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While some ministers like Social welfare Minister Kumari Selja said there should be gender neutrality in for instance using the word "sexual assault" rather than rape, sources say that the government would probably keep it as 'rape' or risk it to look like it is being diluted.

Culture Minister Chandresh Kumari wants the age of consent lowered to 16 from 18, but this has various complications as a lot of other existing laws would need to be amended. Also Child and Welfare Minister Krishna Tirath is opposed to the idea and wants it to be at 18 only.

Sources said that the main problems are over stalking, voyeurism and age of consent. It is felt that many of the provisions are likely to be misused and have no provisions for bail or lengthy prison sentences. 

There is a suggestion that malicious complaints should be punishable while in the safeguards it has been proposed that stalking and voyeurism should be made bailable offences and that there should be pre-investigation before filing an FIR as in many dowry cases.

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The prime minister has made it clear the bill has to be passed, but most ministers have warned that it should be carefully studied and suitable changes made if it has to stand the test of judicial scrutiny as well as being an effective rather than a draconian law.

Along with this the Prevention of Child Abuse Act is also likely to be amended for cases of sodomy and sexual abuse against men.

In the wake of the brutal rape and murder of a 23-year-old paramedical student and a huge nationwide outcry, the Justice Verma commission was set up and most of the recommendations for the tough anti-rape law have come from its report.

But despite the differences and the intention of the government to do justice to the bill and to also safeguard against misuse, the government has made it clear the bill would be passed after it is fine tuned by the group of ministers looking into it.

 


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