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PC pitch for rape ordinance

New Delhi, Feb. 4: The government today defended the Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance, saying it was only the beginning of a legislative process that would deter potential criminals and even help speed up the trial of the Delhi gang rape accused.

President Pranab Mukherjee had yesterday given his assent to the ordinance that includes a provision for capital punishment in cases where rape leads to death or leaves victims in a “persistent vegetative state”.

“The ordinance is only the starting point of a legislative process. I appeal to everyone to allow the process to be completed in the budget session,” finance minister P. Chidambaram said at a media conference today, apparently in response to opposition from some quarters.

Some questioned the need for an ordinance when the budget session was barely three weeks away.

Chidambaram’s main argument was the ordinance would act as a deterrent to potential criminals till Parliament ratified the new legislation within six months, though criminal laws don’t have retrospective effect.

The former home minister suggested that the death penalty prescribed was in line with the “rarest of rare case” spirit of the Constitution, but pointed out that since the ordinance effects changes to the criminal procedure code and the evidence act, it would help expedite the trial.

“Procedural law (CrPC) is retrospective and substantial (criminal) law is prospective,” said senior criminal lawyer K.T.S. Tulsi.

Charges have been framed against the five accused and the trial has begun in a fast-track court in the capital. The sixth accused, a minor, will, however, not face the tougher law as the government has left the juvenile justice act untouched.

Chidambaram said for every group suggesting that the age of juvenility be lowered from 18 to 16, there was another group against such a step, and added that the issue was “difficult”, if not “contentious”.

He said there would be discussions with political parties and the bill passed by Parliament would reflect the broadest possible consensus on the need to have an effective law to protect women.

The ordinance was based on recommendations of the Justice J.S. Verma committee, set up in the wake of the December 16 gang rape, though the government has rejected some key suggestions.

One of the points on which the government differed with the panel was the suggestion to do away with the need for sanction under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) to prosecute armed forces personnel accused of crimes against women.

Chidambaram said there was need for discussions on the AFSPA with the armed forces.