Many State governments favour bringing down the age bar for juvenile offenders from 18 years to 16 to deal with growing cases of sexual assault. A meeting of State Directors-General of Police and Chief Secretaries held on Friday here, however, could not come to a consensus on awarding the death penalty to rape convicts.
In the rape case of the 23-year-old physiotherapy student, one of the six people allegedly involved is being treated as a juvenile in conflict with the law. He is not listed as an accused and the charge sheet has not been filed against him. “Most DGPs and Chief Secretaries suggested that law (to deal with crime against women, particularly rape cases) should be made stricter,” Union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde told journalists after attending the day-long meeting on crimes against women and atrocities against SCs/STs.
Sources in the Ministry of Home Affairs said many state police chiefs openly advocated lowering the age bar to define a juvenile, as in recent years there has been a growing number of cases where people below 18 years were found to be involved in rape cases.
“Many DGPs, particularly of Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal, favoured lowering the age. There was a general consensus that young boys were getting involved in such a heinous crime…there is a need to take a re-look at the Juvenile Act so that the revised provisions (of the Act) work as a deterrent,” a senior official in the Ministry of Home Affairs said.
Meanwhile, the Congress party on Thursday took a similar position. “Because we know that laws applicable to juveniles are much softer in their treatment because we believe that children should be given another opportunity in life. But given the nature of the crime, the most gruesome and heinous way a crime is committed, it has to be revisited to see how we define the word juvenile,” Congress spokesperson Renuka Chowdhary told journalists here. Though Mr. Shinde did not answer how many police chiefs or chief secretaries favoured death penalty for rape convicts, he said they were in favour of harsher punishment.
However, the senior MHA official said there was no consensus on the issue of death penalty to rapists. “One or two States openly talked about it but a majority of States did not touch the issue…many favoured life till death for rape convicts without any leniency or without parole,” the official said.
Mr. Shinde said there is no need to call a special session of Parliament to discuss this issue. “I have already written to all political parties to send their opinions to Justice Verma Committee,” he said.
Mr. Shinde said he has asked all DGPs to introspect on the poor rate of conviction in crimes against women and work towards effective policing. In 2009, over 2.38 lakh cases were registered for crime against women where charge sheets were filed in about 1.64 lakh cases but there were only 27,977 convictions. In 2010, over 2.13 lakh cases were registered followed by 1.72 lakh charge sheets and 30,270 convictions. In 2011, over 2.28 lakh cases were registered, 1.78 lakh charge sheets were filed and only 30,266 convictions secured.
Mr. Shinde said all States have been told to be very strict in cases of sexual harassment and atrocities on SCs and STs and intensify vigil through various ways, including intense patrolling. “We told them to take definitive measures to bring down the crime against women, SCs and STs and increase representation of women in police,” he added.