The Justice Verma Committee formed to look into crimes against women on Wednesday ruled against recommending the death penalty even in the rarest of the rare rape cases, and also did not favour lowering the age of a juvenile from 18 to 16.
The committee, which was tasked with suggesting legal reforms to deal with sexual assault cases, however said the minimum sentence for a rapist should be enhanced from 7 years to 10 and that life imprisonment must always mean jail for ‘the entire natural life of the convict’. It has also recommended forming a new constitutional authority like the CAG for dealing with issues related to education and non-discrimination of women and children.
Presenting the report on ‘Amendments to Criminal Law’, Mr. Verma said at a time when there were talks of abolishing the death sentence, the committee has “enhanced the punishment to mean the remainder of life”. An overwhelming majority of scholars and women’s organisations told the committee they were strongly against death penalty.
After the gangrape and death of the para-medical student in Delhi last month that led to a nationwide uproar, Union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde had said that the government favoured death sentence in the rarest of the rare rape cases.
He had then announced formation of a three-member committee headed by the former Chief Justice of India, with former Chief Justice of Himachal Pradesh Justice Leila Seth and former Solicitor General of India Gopal Subramaniam as its members.
“According to the Working Group on Human Rights, the murder rate has declined consistently in India over the last 20 years despite the slowdown in the execution of death sentences since 1980. Hence we do take note of the argument that introduction of death penalty for rape may not have a deterrent effect,” the Committee recommended.
The Committee also said that in the proposed Criminal Law Amendment Bill, 2012, the minimum sentence for punishment for rape should be enhanced to a minimum of 10 years (currently it is 7 years) with maximum punishment being life imprisonment.
The Committee said castration would be unconstitutional and inconsistent with basic human rights treaties to expose any citizen without their consent to potentially dangerous medical side effects.
On the issue of reducing the age of a juvenile from 18 to 16, Mr. Verma said: “Assuming that a person at the age of 16 is sent to life imprisonment, he would be released sometimes in the mid-30s. There is little assurance that the convict would emerge a reformed person.”
The Committee has criticised lack of reformatory and rehabilitation policies in jails and juvenile homes.