Under immense pressure to take concrete measures to ensure safety of women in the wake of the gang-rape of a 23-year-old woman in Delhi that led to large-scale protests, the Union Cabinet on Wednesday set up a Commission of Inquiry to identify lapses and fix responsibility for the incident.
The Commission, to be headed by the former Delhi High Court judge, Justice Usha Mehra, will also suggest measures to make Delhi and the National Capital Region safer for women. It has been asked to submit a report within three months, which will be tabled in Parliament with action taken by the government.
Amid this development, the Centre ruled out giving control of the city police to the Delhi government for now, saying the responsibility of law and order in the capital should remain with the Union government. “This is not the time to debate positions. Let us restore normalcy in Delhi. These issues can be flagged for debate,” Union Finance Minister P. Chidambaram told reporters after the Cabinet meeting.
On allegations by Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit that police officers had interfered in the recording of statement of the victim, Mr. Chidambaram said the Home Minister had told the Cabinet that an internal probe by a senior officer was ordered into it.
He, however, refused to comment on the confrontation between Ms. Dikshit and Police Commissioner Neeraj Kumar over developments surrounding the recording of the statement.
The Justice Mehra Commission will be in addition to a three-member panel headed by the former Chief Justice of India, J.S. Verma. The committee will suggest changes in law to provide for quicker trial and stringent punishment in “aggravated sexual assault” cases amid demands for death penalty.
During the Cabinet meeting, which was chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, several Ministers were reported to have said the government should ensure the recovery of the victim and instil a sense of safety among women.
Mr. Chidambaram said the government was working on ensuring punishment for the guilty, finding out what went wrong and amending laws dealing with crimes against women to provide for more stern penalty and faster trials. It was a matter of shame that the incident happened in Delhi and that the Central government had special responsibility. He admitted that the developments of the last one week showed a “new phenomenon” of “flash mobs” resorting to protests and that the government was not fully prepared to deal with such situations.