AFSPA is a special law meant for conflict zones, says Ashwani Kumar
Of the three contentious issues stemming from sexual offences against women, the Centre has indicated its willingness to consider a reduction in the juvenile age for criminal offences and inclusion of marital rape under the criminal law if political consensus emerges in Parliament. The Bill is expected to be tabled in the second half of the budget session.
The government, however, has a problem in bringing the armed forces within the purview of the proposed Bill, which is to replace the Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance promulgated in the wake of the nationwide outrage following the brutal sexual assault on a 23-year-old student in Delhi.
Law and Justice Minister Ashwani Kumar told The Hindu that the Standing Committee on the Home Affairs, in its report tabled in Parliament on Friday, left the issue of marital rape untouched. “It is a matter of much debate and divergent views, but the government is open to being persuaded, provided there is political consensus.”
On reducing the juvenile age from 18 to 16 years, he said Minister of State for Women and Child Development Krishna Tirath had made a statement (rejecting it). “For the moment, her statement reflects the thinking of the government. The views of the Standing Committee on Home [which tabled its report on the original Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2012] are not at variance and are entitled to due weight. However, the final contours will emerge after a wholesome debate in Parliament.”
On doing away with the provision for sanction to prosecute a member of the armed forces accused of a crime against a woman, under the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, Mr. Kumar said it was a special law meant for conflict zones and in difficult circumstances where the onus and burden of proof was not easy to resolve; therefore, the opinion of the defence establishment and intelligence agencies was critical in such matters.
Asked if the redrafted Bill that is to replace the Ordinance will take precedence over the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2012, considered by the Standing Committee, the Minister said the Bill that would replace the Ordinance “subsumes very substantially” the 2012 Bill that was referred to the committee.
Asked if the re-drafted Bill would also be referred to the Standing Committee, the Minister said: “It will be entirely up to the presiding officers to decide whether the two Houses of Parliament should straightaway debate the Bill replacing the Ordinance or refer the same to the Standing Committee after taking a sense of the House. [If the Bill is referred] to the parliamentary panel then the presiding officers may also fix a time frame as the Bill has to be passed in this session.”
On capital punishment, he said there was enough empirical evidence all over the world to suggest that it was not necessarily the best deterrent even against heinous crimes.
Commenting on the panel’s recommendation that mercy petitions be disposed of within three months, Mr. Kumar said though prima facie this appears justifiable, “we cannot ignore the fact it is the President’s prerogative to dispose of mercy petitions in the exercise of the sovereign power that vests in the head of state and its exercise could be dependent on a variety of factors.”