SP, BSP unhappy with some provisions

A Bill providing for tougher punishment for crimes against women, including rape, acid attack, stalking and voyeurism, was approved by the Union Cabinet on Thursday, after a Group of Ministers, constituted to prescribe safeguards, completed its examination of the draft law in a record two days.

On March 18, The Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2013, will be discussed at an all-party meeting before it goes to Parliament. The government is working overtime to beat its own deadline of March 22, when the first half of the budget session ends, for passing the Bill before the ordinance it seeks to replace lapses on April 4.

But the government may not find it very easy to push the Bill through, with some Opposition parties voicing their unhappiness over its provisions. The Samajwadi Party’s Naresh Aggarwal has said his party may even oppose the introduction of the Bill, as its provisions could be misused to harass men, and could also come in handy for employers not employing women. The latter argument has found currency in sections of the Congress, too.

Individual MPs in both the SP and the Bahujan Samaj Party — as in many other parties — are particularly unhappy that stalking and voyeurism have been criminalised, with sustained stalking being made a non-bailable offence. The BJP, on the other hand, is objecting to lowering the age of consent for sex from 18 to 16.

The Bill, cleared by the Cabinet, makes the age of consent 16, bringing it in line with the Indian Penal Code, but at variance with the Child Protection Act, 2012, which raised it to 18.

Rape has been made a gender-specific crime — only a woman can be its victim — and it replaces the more general expression “sexual assault” used in the ordinance. It also provides for the death sentence if the rape victim dies or ends up in a vegetative state.

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