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New Delhi: The union cabinet yesterday cleared a bill for harsher punishments for rapists, after agreeing to replace the word “sexual assault” with “rape” and reducing the age of consent from 18 years to 16, sources said.
According to the bill, voyeurism, for the first time, would be a bailable offence while stalking would be a non-bailable offence, the sources said.
The sources said the cabinet cleared the bill at a meeting presided over by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
The cabinet had on Tuesday deferred a decision on the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill due to lack of unanimity.
A Group of Ministers (GoM), headed by Finance Minister P Chidambaram and set up by the prime minister to resolve differences, met on Wednesday to thrash out pending issues, and agreed on replacing the word “sexual assault” with “rape” and reducing the age of consent from 18 years to 16.
The GoM agreed to use the word “rape”, where the victim was a woman and the perpetrator a male, since women activists were against use of the term “sexual assault”, which would have made the bill gender neutral.
The bill provides for a minimum prison sentence of 20 years for rape, which can be extended to natural life of the convict in jail. The draft law also provides for the death sentence in the event a rape victim dies or is in a “persistent vegetative state”.
Under the existing law, a rapist faces a term of seven to 10 years in jail.
Sources said the government will now decide whether to go to the parliament directly with the bill or take the legislation to an all-party meeting on March 18 called by Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath to evolve consensus on the issue.
There is a sense of urgency in passing the legislation by March 22 as the bill will replace an ordinance promulgated by President Pranab Mukherjee on February 3 and it has to be passed within six weeks of that date.
The first half of the budget session ends on March 22 and the house will reconvene on April 22.
Proposing the death penalty in the rarest of rare cases of rape and for repeat offenders while keeping marital rape out of its ambit, the ordinance was framed as evidence of the government’s intention to treat the issue of crimes against women with urgency.