Panel headed by Justice Verma begins work, asks all stakeholders to send their suggestions

A three-member committee of jurists, formed to suggest amendments to criminal law to sternly deal with sexual assault cases, swung into action on Monday, eliciting views from the public and authorities concerned.

For his part, Union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde has called a meeting of State Chief Secretaries and police chiefs here for January 4, 2013 to review the situation of crimes against women, particularly rape, and discuss measures that need to be taken immediately and in the long run.

However, the government is yet to set up a “Commission of Inquiry” under the Commissions of Inquiry Act, 1952 to “review responses to this shocking crime [the December 16 gang rape in the capital],” as announced by Mr. Shinde on Saturday following mass protests in Delhi and other cities.

Headed by the former Chief Justice of India, J.S. Verma, the committee has urged the public in general and particularly eminent jurists, legal professionals, NGOs, women’s groups and civil society to share “their views, knowledge and experience suggesting possible amendments in the criminal and other relevant laws to provide for quicker investigation, prosecution and trial, as also enhanced punishment for criminals accused of committing sexual assault of an extreme nature against women.”

The committee, which includes the former Chief Justice of the Himachal Pradesh High Court, Leila Seth, and the former Solicitor-General, Gopal Subramaniam, has asked all stakeholders to send their suggestions by e-mail to justice.verma@nic.in or through fax at 011-23092675.

As the committee has been asked to submit its report within 30 days, it will accept suggestions till January 5, 2013. Succumbing to the tremendous public pressure for deterrent laws against rape, the government is seeking review of the present laws “so as to provide for speedier justice and enhanced punishment in cases of aggravated sexual assault.” At present, the maximum punishment for a rape convict is life imprisonment but now the government is seriously considering the death penalty in the rarest of the rare cases of rape.

Meanwhile, Mr. Shinde, referring to violence on India Gate lawns and on Rajpath last weekend, said an inquiry was being conducted, though he defended the police crackdown. He said the safety and security of Rashtrapati Bhavan was at risk. “Rashtrapati Bhavan is a prestigious house of the country and it is the image of the country. If they [the protesters] had gone there, you would have criticised me. That is why we are very strict on this thing,” he said in an interview.

Defends government

Mr. Shinde also defended the government against public criticism that it failed to have an effective dialogue with the protesters. “It is very easy to ask the Home Minister to go to India Gate and talk. Tomorrow if any other party’s demonstration goes on why should not the Home Minister go there? Tomorrow Congress and BJP will demonstrate, tomorrow Maoists will come here to demonstrate with weapons … This will happen tomorrow, for any government. Why should the government go anywhere?”

‘Political elements behind violence’

Blaming “certain political elements” for the violence on India Gate lawns and on Rajpath, the Minister said: “We have information that some political elements were behind the violence … we are enquiring into it.”

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