Verma panel recommended fixing responsibility on superior officers

The Centre has not accepted the recommendations of the Justice Verma Committee regarding punishment to government servants, particularly police and army personnel, involved in acts of crime against women.

The ordinance, cleared by the Union Cabinet on Friday, aims at making changes in various sections of the Indian Penal Code dealing with crime against women.

For instance, the three-member panel had suggested changes in law to fix “offence of breach of command responsibility” so that a police or armed forces officer could be charged if he is found to have failed to take steps to stop crime against women committed by personnel under his command.

“Whoever is guilty of the offence of breach of command responsibility shall be punished with rigorous imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than 7 years, but may extend to 10 years,” the committee had suggested.

But the Union Cabinet did not accept this recommendation saying it “fixes vicarious criminal responsibility on the leader of a force for acts of subordinates.”

Similarly, the committee was also very vocal against misuse of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act by army personnel in extremism-affected areas and suggested that “sexual violence against women by members of the armed forces or uniformed personnel must be brought under the purview of ordinary criminal law.”

“We notice that impunity for systematic or isolated sexual violence in the process of internal security duties is being legitimised by the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, which is in force in large parts of our country… Serious allegations of persistent sexual assault on the women in such areas and conflict areas are causing more alienation,” the committee had noted.

“There is an imminent need to review the continuance of AFSPA and AFSPA-like legal protocols in internal conflict areas as soon as possible,” it suggested.

But the government rejected the panel’s recommendation to amend the AFSPA where no sanction would be required if armed forces personnel were accused of committing a crime against women.

The committee also recommended that no sanction would be required for prosecution of a judge or magistrate or public servant if accused of crimes against women. But the Cabinet did not agree to this provision “to avoid false complaints” against government officers.

The panel suggested some changes in the IPC to ensure that a panchayat member or officer of an area report offences relating to crime against women to the nearest magistrate so cases of crime do not go unreported. But the Cabinet rejected it saying that it could be misused.

The Ministry of Home Affairs-appointed panel also recommended deletion of a section of the IPC so that forced sex by husband with his wife during separation process should be brought under the definition of rape. But the government decided against it fearing that it could hamper chances of reconciliation. It, however, enhanced the punishment for the crime from two years to maximum seven years of imprisonment.