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Cabinet divided over anti-rape bill

Cabinet divided over anti-rape bill

New Delhi: Amid differences of opinion in the cabinet over the proposed anti-rape law, Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde Tuesday expressed confidence that the government will resolve the issue by Thursday and pass the legislation by March 22.

There is a sense of urgency in passing the law by March 22 as the bill will replace an ordinance promulgated by President Pranab Mukherjee Feb 3 and has to be passed within six weeks from that date.

The first half of the budget session ends March 22 and the house will reconvene April 22.

The issue has been in sharp focus after the brutal assault and gang-rape of a woman in Delhi Dec 16, 2012. She succumbed to her injuries Dec 29 in Singapore.

As differences of opinion prevailed among ministers at a special cabinet meeting called to pass the bill, the government decided to refer the legislation to a Group of Ministers (GoM) to resolve the issue.

"The GoM meetings will be held soon. We are confident that the issue will be resolved by Thursday. We will pass the bill by March 22," Shinde told reporters.

According to informed sources, the points of disagreement over the bill relate to provisions making it gender neutral, lowering the age of juvenile criminals from 18 to 16 besides provisions prescribing punishment for stalking and voyeurism.

While Finance Minister P. Chidambaram wants the bill to be gender neutral by replacing the word "rape" with "sexual assault", women activists have impressed upon the government to retain the word "rape" so that law is seen as specifically for crimes again women.

Also, Minister for Women and Child Development Krishna Tirath is against lowering the age of juvenile criminals from 18 to 16, an issue which came into focus after the Delhi gang-rape, in which one of the accused is a juvenile.

Informed sources said the government needed to be careful on defining provisions which made stalking and voyeurism punishable under law as these might be challenged in a court.

The GoM will be headed by Chidambaram and its other members include Shinde, Tirath, Law Minister Ashwani Kumar and Communications Minister Kapil Sibal.

"We will pass the bill within the stipulated time-frame. There are differences which will be sorted out soon," Tirath said.

"We will hold discussion in both houses of parliament by March 22. The cabinet met today and all members expressed their views openly. The PM (prime minister) formed the GoM and we will meet Wednesday or Thursday and I'm confident we will arrive at consensus and, either Friday or Monday, the bill will be taken up in the house," Ashwani Kumar told reporters.

The ordinance proposes the death penalty in the rarest of rare cases of rape and for repeat offenders while keeping marital rape out of its ambit.

The ordinance was framed by the government as evidence of its intention to treat the issue of crimes against women with urgency and incorporated suggestions of the Justice J.S. Verma Committee formed to give views to make anti-rape laws more strong.


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