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Seal on death for killer rapists

New Delhi, Feb. 3: President Pranab Mukherjee today signed an ordinance on strengthening laws to curb sex crimes against women, putting his seal on the decree that includes a provision for capital punishment for rapes that cause death or leave victims in a permanent vegetative state.

The presidential assent means the ordinance, cleared by the Union cabinet at a special meeting on Friday, has become a law. But Parliament has to ratify it within six months.

“The President of India has accorded his assent to the Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance, 2013, today,” an official release said.

A spokesperson for the home ministry confirmed that the President had approved the ordinance. The official said the government was planning to ensure its passage in Parliament’s budget session, which begins on February 21.

The ordinance, which replaced the word “rape” with “sexual assault” to expand the definition of crimes against women, entails changes in criminal laws by amending the penal code, criminal procedure code and the evidence act.

It includes key recommendations of the Justice J.S. Verma committee the government had set up after the December 16 gang rape to suggest ways to strengthen laws on sexual crimes against women. The government, however, went beyond the panel’s recommendations that stopped short of proposing death penalty for rapists. It included the provision for capital punishment in cases where rape leads to death or leaves the victim in a “persistent vegetative state”.

Despite the clamour for capital punishment in the wake of the eventually fatal bus gang rape, the panel had not recommended such a step, saying a strong case had been made against what “would be a regressive step”.

The ordinance has evoked mixed response. The BJP welcomed it but the CPM and several women’s rights groups lashed out at the government’s “lack of transparency” in taking the emergency route of moving an ordinance and disregarding key recommendations of the Verma panel.

A key suggestion the government rejected was inclusion of marital rape as a criminal offence. The suggestion to do away with the need for sanction to prosecute armed forces personnel accused of crimes against women was rejected too. The government did not also accept the recommendation on compensation to victims of sexual assault.

It accepted the suggestions on punishment for stalking, disrobing a woman and voyeurism.