Rape that leads to death of the victim or leaving her in a vegetative state can now attract death penalty under an ordinance cleared by the Union cabinet on Friday night in a bid to fast-track stringent amendments to the criminal laws to check crime against women.
The ordinance, based on the recommendations of the Justice J S Verma Committee and going beyond, proposes to replace the word 'rape' with 'sexual assault' to expand the definition of all types sexual crimes against women.
It also proposes enhanced punishment for other crimes against women like stalking, voyeurism, acid attacks, indecent gestures like words and inappropriate touch and brings into its ambit 'marital rape'.
The Union cabinet, at a specially-convened meeting just three weeks ahead of the Budget Session of Parliament, went beyond the Verma Committee's recommendation by providing for capital punishment in the cases where rape leads to death of the victim or leaves her in "persistent vegetative state".
In such cases, the minimum punishment will be 20 years in jail which can be extended to the natural life of the convict or death, sources said, adding discretion will be with the court.
Being brought against the backdrop of the gang-rape and brutal assault of a 23-year-old girl in Delhi in December, the ordinance entails changes in the criminal law by amending Indian Penal Code (IPC), Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) and the Evidence Act.
The government will now recommend to President Pranab Mukherjee to promulgate the ordinance with immediate effect.
"We believe that this is a progressive piece of legislation and is consistent with felt sensitivities of the nation in the aftermath of outrageous gang-rape in Delhi," law minister Ashwani Kumar said.
After the Delhi gang-rape incident, which shocked the nation, there were vociferous demands for death penalty, but the Verma committee has not favoured it.
The government has rejected a recommendation of the Verma panel on Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act that no sanction would be required if the armed forces personnel are accused of a crime against woman.
In a bid to make the law women friendly, the ordinance suggests that only a woman police officer will take the statement of the victim of the sexual crime.
Women under 18 years will not be confronted with the accused but provision of cross examination has been retained.
There will be no personal appearance of witnesses before police officers.
The IPC allows the court to impose a lower sentence. The ordinance takes away the power of the court to lower the sentence.
Penalty in term of year in jail has been recommended for a government servant if he does not cooperate on sexual offence case or harms the process of law. The panel had recommended five years in jail.
While accepting the recommendation to record the statement by police officers of the person reporting the crime at his or her residence, the government has made optional suggestion to videograph the proceedings.
The ordinance says that if a person facing acid attack kills the accused in the process of self-defence, then she will be protected under the 'right to self defence'.
Compensation for acid attack victims "adequate to meet at least the medical expenses incurred" by her has not been accepted by the government.