The Rajya Sabha on Tuesday cleared the much-awaited Juvenile Justice Bill against the backdrop of the 2012 gang rape-cum-murder, with the government seeking support of all the parties to the legislation to ‘deter many other boys’ from committing such a crime.
"This is a tribute to our daughter," said Nirbhaya's father, who was present in the RS to watch the proceedings.
Nirbhaya's mother, however, said that although she is happy that the bill was passed, she is unhappy as her daughter 'didn't get justice'.
Several parties, including the Nationalist Congress Party, the Communist Party of India-Marxist and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, pushed for sending the bill to a Select Committee, arguing that further examination was required to decide whether the age for punitive action should be reduced to 16 years from the current level of 18 years.
Moving the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Bill for consideration and passage, Union Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi said the legislation is ‘compassionate’ and comprehensive in nature.
She said the juvenile crime is the fastest rising segment of the crime and ‘you cannot have a more comprehensive, more nuanced and compassionate bill’.
Reaching out to the Opposition, she reminded the Congress that the Bill was theirs and not hers or the National Democratic Alliance government.
"We may not be able to do anything about the juvenile convict in the Nirbhaya case but we can deter many other boys from doing so," she pleaded.
The bill was taken up against the backdrop of uproar over the release of the juvenile convict in the heinous gang rape-cum-murder of a 23-year-old girl on December 16, 2012. Parents of the victim have said that the convict could escape after spending three years in a correction home only because the law is weak.
Explaining the nuances of the bill, the minister said no juvenile will be sent to the jail directly.
She said the justice board has experts and psychologists who will first decide whether the crime committed has been ‘child-like’ or was it committed in an ‘adult frame of mind’.
Gandhi said the juveniles will still have the power to appeal even if a court decides that they will go to an adult jail.
"If juveniles are sent to jail, they will be sent to a borstal until they are 21 years old, after which there will be a review,” she said making it clear that they will still not be spending time with hardened criminals.
"This is a nuanced bill... some people are over simplifying this bill. If it is perceived that it was a thought-out, adult and planned crime, it would not be considered a child-like crime,” the minister said.
Referring to media reports that the convict in the December 2012 gang rape-cum-murder was radicalised in remand home, Gandhi asked what exactly were Kashmiri terrorists doing in a children’s home in the same place as a juvenile convicted of rape.
Asking whether victims should be protected or the rapists, she said it was important to pass the Juvenile Justice Bill because of the seriousness of the crimes committed by some juveniles.
After Gandhi finished speaking, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Venkaiah Naidu reminded the House that the government had listed the bill thrice this session and a number of times during the last session.
He said there was unnecessary discussion that the government was shy of bringing in the Juvenile Justice Bill.
He stressed that the Bill cannot be applied in retrospective effect.
Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad, who initiated the discussion on the Bill, took a dig at Naidu, saying even when the House was running smoothly, he was taking ‘panga’.
On his part, Azad complimented the parents of Nirbhaya, especially the mother, saying she is not only fighting for her daughter but also to make sure that there is no other Nirbhaya in the country.
Noting that Nirbhaya case had shaken the country and filled people with anger, the Congress leader said the bill was very important.
He said be it farmers, or college students or even the women at home watching the news on TV, they were all perturbed by the incident.
Taking a dig at the government, Azad said when the Juvenile law was first enacted by the Rajiv Gandhi dispensation, the cutoff age was 16.
"This was subsequently raised to 18 during the NDA government is 2000 and now they want to come back to the age that Rajiv Gandhi had set in 1986,” he said.
He said for the last few days, the country has been discussing the issue and the biggest question is about the age. But, from politicians to writers, everyone is divided on the issue and many good arguments can be put forward in support of as well as against the cut off age of 16.
Had the juvenile convict in Nirbhaya case not been released, the government would not have been serious about the bill, he said.
He said most of the juvenile children hail from poor family background and do not belong to the rich and well settled.
He strongly pitched for lighting of dingy lanes in the cities and said that police patrols should be increased as it will act as a deterrent.
He said the police should patrol not only the New Delhi area where ministers live but also other parts of the city.
Ravi Prakash Verma (Samajwadi Party) said piecemeal remedy will not work and reminded the government that tougher laws enacted in the past have failed to check the crime from happening again.
He said most of juveniles do not even know what the consequences of their act would be. Children are also being exploited by organised gangs, he added.
Verma also attacked the media for only focussing on the Nirbhaya case even when such incidents have happened across the country.
Anu Aga (Nominated) demanded that the Bill be referred to a Select Committee for examination as lowering the age of a juvenile from 18 years to 16 years will be a step in backward direction and would be considered a knee-jerk reaction only.
Most children dread going to remand homes due to brutalities done there, she said.
Kahkashan Perween (Janata Dal-United) said the legislation should focus on converting inefficient remand home reform system into an effective system to reform children and should not focus merely on lowering the age of the juvenile.
Perween said most of the juveniles have the background of illiteracy, unemployment and poverty and emphasis should be on their betterment in remand homes.
If need be, the stay of the juvenile can be extended in the remand home for reforms.
A Navaneethakrishnan (All India Aann Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) said there is a need to protect the children and demanded that the bill should have provisions for legal rights for juvenile, the victims and parents of victims.
Derek O' Brien (Trinamool Congress) hit out at the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress saying the parties were obsessed with petty games.
Senior Congress leader Anand Sharma took strong objection to his remarks that his party and the BJP were involved in ‘petty games’ on the issue, saying, “This is no school debate.”
Making an emotional statement, O’Brien said, “Had my daughter been at the place of Nirbhaya, I would have shot dead the perpetrators of the crime.”
“I have a 20-year-old daughter. God forbid, if December 16 case happened with her...How would I, a so-called educated and law-abiding citizen, have reacted under the circumstances... Would I use criminal justice system, would I hire a criminal lawyer for bigger punishment to the perpetrator...Would I buy a gun and shoot the person...I would have probably taken out a gun and shot the perpetrator,” he said.
V P Singh Badnore (BJP) reacted to it, saying what kind of message he was giving as a member of Parliament. “It will not be the right message,” he said.
O’Brien, however, said, when he talked of killing the perpetrator, it was as a father. At the same time, he urged all parties to pass a bill which all citizens wanted.
Stressing that the law had provisions for both reforms and punishment, he demanded that the government consider changing the provisions of three years’ stay for juveniles at reform centres to 7 to 10 years.
Also, he said that apart from financial and psychological help, educational support should be given to the juveniles once they are out of remand homes.
After the bill was passed, Gandhi thanked all the members saying, “I’m happy that everyone supported the Juvenile Justice Bill and want to thank everyone.”