Visitors look at the sealed-off road leading to India Gate on Wednesday. Although traffic was allowed to ply between India Gate and Rajpath, some barricades remained. Picture by Prem Singh
New Delhi, Dec. 26: The government today set up a commission of inquiry to identify lapses that may have led to the bus gang rape and “fix responsibility” even as the capital limped back to normal after a violent weekend.
Police let vehicles ply on the 2.5km stretch between India Gate and Rajpath, locked down for the past two days since Sunday’s protests.
The decision to set up the commission is the latest among several measures the government has taken over the past few days to reach out to citizens, outraged by the brutality of the December 16 assault on a 23-year-old who is still battling for life in hospital.
Finance minister P. Chidambaram said the commission, headed by retired Delhi High Court judge Usha Mehra, would probe the gang rape and submit its report in three months. “The commission would go into the various aspects of the rape and brutal assault on a young woman in the capital on December 16 and will identify lapses, if any, on the part of the police or any other authority,” he said.
The commission, he said, has also been asked to suggest measures to “ensure safety for women” across the country, especially in the national capital region.
“It will submit the report within three months which will be tabled in Parliament along with action taken by the government,” the minister, who was briefing the media after a cabinet meeting, added.
“Whatever we are doing now is only intended to demonstrate the government’s serious intent in the matter — that we will apprehend and punish the perpetrators. We will try and find out what went wrong and fix responsibility. We will also amend the laws as deemed necessary.”
The government has already set up a three-member panel, headed by former Chief Justice of India J.S. Verma, to suggest amendments to speed up trial and enhance punishment in cases of “aggravated sexual assault”.
Chidambaram said the government was serious about finding a “lasting solution” to the problem of inadequate security all women face. “But it has happened in Delhi, which is a matter of shame…” he told a media conference he addressed with information and broadcasting minister Manish Tewari.
Asked about the condition of the trainee paramedic, Chidambaram said she was on ventilator support. “Our prayers are with the family of the victim.”
He voiced anguish “at what happened on December 16”. It is a “shame”, he repeated. “As a man, I feel ashamed. All of you here in this room should also feel ashamed. Why do men behave like this? We acknowledge the public anger and recognise it.”
Referring to the two commissions, the minister spoke of a three-pronged approach:
Ensuring punishment for the guilty
Find out what went wrong on December 16
Amend laws dealing with crimes against women to provide for sterner penalty and faster trials.
Chidambaram welcomed Delhi High Court Chief Justice D. Murugesan’s announcement of setting up fast-track courts from January 3, and said he hoped other high courts would follow suit.
Chidambaram said the developments of the past week had shown a “new phenomenon of flash mobs” and conceded the government was not fully prepared to deal with such situations. “Lessons have been learnt. New standard operating procedures (SOPs) will need to be devised to deal with such situations,” the former home minister added.
Asked if the violent protests reflected the failure of the leadership, Tewari said: “It’s an emotive and sensitive issue and the government had no problem with peaceful protests, but there should have been no violence.”
The capital appeared to have put behind the chaotic weekend but some barricades remained along Rajpath and India Gate, the epicentre of the protests. “We are still not allowing people to go near India Gate. We will lift the restrictions after a couple of days after gauging the public mood,” said a policeman deployed near the iconic structure.
All the nine central Delhi Metro stations, shut from Monday, opened last evening, bringing relief to commuters.
Union home secretary R.K. Singh and Delhi police commissioner Neeraj Kumar will face a parliamentary panel tomorrow to discuss security of women in the capital. “The standing committee will hear the home secretary along with the commissioner of police, Delhi, on growing cases of atrocities against women and the general law and order situation in Delhi,” an official source said.
BJP leader Venkaiah Naidu, who chairs the committee, said the committee would not seek explanations from the officials but discuss the entire issue of women’s security.