Sonia was apologetic for Cong’s midnight submission

New Delhi: Suggestions of the Congress party on changing anti-rape laws were delivered past midnight to Justice J S Verma leading to party chief Sonia Gandhi tendering an apology to him for the odd timing.

Justice Verma also said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Finance Minister P Chidambaram were instrumental in forming the committee which gave far reaching recommendations favouring comprehensive amendments to criminal laws.

"Past mid-night, someone came to my residence, woke me up and wanted to hand over personally (the Congress party's suggestions). But somehow the Congress president came to know of it. She was very gracious and next day she rang me up personally and profusely apologised to my great embarrassment.
I had to tell her do not do this," he told Karan Thapar on CNN-IBN's Devil's Advocate Programme.

Justice Verma headed the three-member committee which was constituted by the government in the wake of the December 16 gangrape incident to suggest amendments to anti-rape laws.

On January 23, the committee submitted its recommendations seeking minimum 20 years imprisonment for gangrape and life term for rape and murder but refrained from prescribing death penalty. It also suggested amendment of criminal laws to provide for higher punishment to rapists, including those belonging to police and public servants.

New offences have been created and stiffer punishment has been suggested for those committing rape and leaving the victim in a vegetative state. These include disrobing a woman, voyeurism, stalking and trafficking.

Justice Verma said he took the chairmanship of the committee after Chidambaram called him up at the behest of Prime Minister Singh and he had not talked to Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde even once till now.

Asked why death penalty was not recommended by the penal for rape, Justice Verma said there was unanimous view of women groups against it.

"It was a unanimous suggestion of even women leaders who have been fighting for the cause for decades. Even the current trend is against death penalty," he said.

He said when a brutal rape ends up in death, Section 302 (murder) will be automatically applicable to the accused and so the room for capital punishment was still there.

Asked about his recommendations on failure of the command structure, Justice Verma said it was necessary because if higher officers can execute their responsibility properly, many crimes can be avoided.

On whether the committee tried to get political profile by giving certain political recommendations, he said, "We are not concerned about profile which local politicians might think.

"But we comprehended the legitimate scope of our limit. That is what we have done. And electoral laws are important because ultimately that affects the true representations. And unless there is true representation, the constitutional gurantees can not be fulfilled."

Hitting out at political and religious leaders for making controversial comments on women, the committee has recommended framing laws to disqualify politicians who issue statements "reinforcing gender bias".