Bowing to pressure from political parties, government on Monday retained the age of consent for sex at 18 years and also watered down provisions on stalking and voyeurism in a bill which seeks stringent punishment for crimes against women.
The Union Cabinet, at a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, cleared amendments to the The Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill-2013 agreed at an all party meeting on Monday, paving the way for its introduction in Parliament on Tuesday.
The latest version of the Bill retains the age of consent to 18 years as was in the Ordinance promulgated last month.
In a Cabinet meeting on Thursday, the government had decided to lower the age of consent to 16 years, triggering protests from political parties, including the BJP and SP.
The age of consent for sex was 16 years under the IPC before Government promulgated an ordinance on February 3 this year, raising it to 18 years.
At Monday's meeting, the government also diluted the sections dealing with voyeurism and stalking to "reduce gross abuse". Now, both the offences will be bailable for first time offenders. However, repeat offenders would be denied bail and punishment would extend to a maximum of five years in jail.
In a bid to prevent misuse, the term stalking has been defined and it would be deemed as offence only when indulged into persistently.
Disrobing a woman by force, even at a private place including a house, would be a punishable offence with jail term of upto seven years.
Earlier, disrobing a woman at a public place was a punishable offence but government was of the view that the mention of public place was prone to misuse by offenders.
During today's all party meeting, a majority view was that the clauses about stalking and voyuerism be tweaked further to prevent misuse. There should be sufficient safeguards against filing of false cases by political opponents and those wanting to settle scores, they said.
The Bill had provisions for safeguard against misuse. But the GoM to which it was referred to decided to drop it, maintaining the existing provisions in IPC have sufficient safeguards.
The Criminal Laws Ordinance, which made anti-rape laws more stringent, was promulgated by the President on February 3 in the wake of public outrage over the December 16 Delhi gangrape.
The Ordinance lapses on April 4 and the government and most parties are of the view that the Bill be passed with suitable changes before the Budget Session goes into recess on March 22.
The Bill retains key provisions of the Ordinance which defines acid attack as a separate IPC offence and provides for punishment ranging from a minimum of 20 years to a convict's "natural life" in jail or even death in case the rape victim dies or is left in a persistent vegetative state.