The government has decided not to wait for Parliament to clear tough new anti-rape laws, the subject of national debate after the fatal gang-rape of a young student on a Delhi bus in December. Instead, the government has brought in an ordinance that introduces tougher jail terms for crimes against women, including the death penalty for extreme cases of sexual assault.
The ordinance comes into effect as as soon as the president signs it. The Parliament has to pass the ordinance within six months. The Budget Session of Parliament starts on February 21.
The ordinance incorporates some but not all of the recommendations of the Justice Verma commission, a panel of three legal experts, appointed by the government in the wake of fierce street protests after the Delhi gang-rape. (Read Ordinance vs Verma commission recommendations)
The panel which was headed by former chief justice JS Verma did not ask for the death penalty even for extreme cases of rape, largely because women's groups were not in favour of it. Though the committee recommended that marital rape be recognized as a crime, it does not feature in the ordinance which also replaces the word "rape" with the term "sexual assault" and includes acid attacks and stalking.
The ordinance also does not include any reference to a review of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act or AFSPA -the commission had suggested that sexual crimes by members of the armed forces should be tried under ordinary criminal law.
Justice Verma, who is 80, delivered his report within 29 days and urged the government to match his team's commitment by implementing the changes urgently. Earlier this week, the Prime Minister sent him a letter stating, "On behalf of our government, I assure you that we will be prompt in pursuing the recommendations of the committee."