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Pranab Mukherjee Signs Sexual Assault Ordinance
Two days after it was cleared by the Union Cabinet, an ordinance on sexual violence against women under which rape that leads to death of the victim can now attract death penalty was today promulgated by President Pranab Mukherjee.

The President has given his assent to the Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance 2013, a Home Ministry spokesperson said.

The Union Cabinet on Friday recommended the draft of the ordinance to the President for his assent in a bid to fast-track stringent amendments to the criminal laws to check crime against women. The ordinance came less than three weeks before the start of the Budget Session of Parliament.

The ordinance, based on the recommendations of the Justice J S Verma Committee and going beyond, also proposes to replace the word 'rape' with 'sexual assault' to expand the definition of all types sexual crimes against women.

The ordinance has evoked a mixed response with opposition BJP welcoming it but CPI(M) and several women's groups opposed it, attacking the government for doing "injustice" to Verma Committee recommendations.

Being brought against the backdrop of the gangrape and brutal assault of a 23-year-old girl in Delhi in December that shook the country, the ordinance entails changes in the criminal law by amending Indian Penal Code (IPC), Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) and the Evidence Act.

It also proposes enhanced punishment for other crimes against women like stalking, voyeurism, acid attacks, indecent gestures like words and inappropriate touch and brings into its ambit 'marital rape'.

The Union Cabinet at the specially-convened meeting went beyond the Verma Committee's recommendation by providing for capital punishment in the cases where rape leads to death of the victim or leaves her in "persistent vegetative state".

In such cases, the minimum punishment will be 20 years in jail which can be extended to the natural life of the convict or death, sources said, adding discretion will be with the court.

After the Delhi gangrape incident, there were vociferous demands for death penalty, but the Verma committee has not favoured it.

The government has rejected a recommendation of the Verma panel on Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act that no sanction would be required if the armed forces personnel are accused of a crime against woman.

In a bid to make the law women friendly, the ordinance suggests that only a woman police officer will take the statement of the victim of the sexual crime.

Women under 18 years will not be confronted with the accused but provision of cross examination has been retained.

There will be no personal appearance of witnesses before police officers.

The IPC allows the court to impose a lower sentence. The ordinance takes away the power of the court to lower the sentence.

Penalty in term of years in jail has been recommended for a government servant if he does not cooperate on sexual offence case or harms the process of law. The panel had recommended five years in jail.

While accepting the recommendation to record the statement by police officers of the person reporting the crime at his or her residence, the government has made optional suggestion to videograph the proceedings.

The ordinance says if a person facing acid attack kills the accused in the process of self-defence, then she will be protected under the 'right to self defence'.

Compensation for acid attack victims "adequate to meet at least the medical expenses incurred" by her has not been accepted by the government.
Emerging story. Watch this space for updates as more details come in
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