Verma Committee favours changes in criminal laws

New Delhi: Making far reaching recommendations, the Justice Verma Committee today favoured comprehensive amendments to criminal laws seeking minimum 20 years imprisonment for gang rape and life term for rape and murder but refrained from prescribing death penalty.

However, the three-member Committee headed by former Chief Justice J S Verma, which was constituted in the wake of the nationwide outrage over the December 16 gang rape of a girl in Delhi, is not in favour of reducing the age of juveniles under the law.

Nor did the Committee favour chemical castration of rapists saying the Constitution of India does not permit mutilation of a human body.

In its 630-page report to the government submitted today, the Committee has 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. They include disrobing a woman, voyeurism, stalking and trafficking.

Sexual misconduct also includes intentional touching, spoken words and gestures made as advances.

The present law provides for punishment of rapists imprisonment ranging from seven years to life in jail. For the first time, the minimum punishment is sought to be raised to 20 years in some cases.

The panel's view on juvenile's age assumed significance in the context of strong demands for lowering the age from 18 to 16 against the backdrop of the allegation that one of the six accused is said to be a juvenile.

The Committee, comprising a former High Court Chief Justice Leila Seth and jurist Gopal Subramanium, also traversed various areas in a bid to check crimes against women seeking disqualification of MPs and MLAs charged with heinous crimes like rape, measures to check khap panchayats and trial of personnel of security forces under ordinary criminal laws and not under AFSPA.

Addressing a press conference, Justice Verma came down heavily on Union Home Secretary R K Singh for praising Delhi Police Commissioner after the Delhi gang rape instead of coming out with an apology.

It also attacked police for the lathicharge on young demonstrators in the capital last month which it said had scarred democracy.

Releasing the report, Justice Verma told a news conference that the Committee has not suggested death penalty for rapist because there was overwhelming suggestions from the women organisations against it, a point that was received with thunderous applause from activists at the media interaction.