The tough law to tackle crimes against women was on Tuesday referred to an Empowered Group of Ministers as differences persisted in the Cabinet over certain provisions pertaining to stalking, voyeurism and lowering the age of consensual sex to 16 years.
Women and child development minister at Parliament in New Delhi. Mohd Zakir/HT
The special meeting of the Union Cabinet convened Tuesday morning could not reach consensus even after hour-long deliberations on the Criminal Laws (Amendment) Bill with differing views being expressed on some other issues also like replacing the term "rape" -- which is more gender specific -- with "sexual assault" -- which is gender neutral.
Thereafter, the decision was taken to refer to an EGoM headed by finance minister P Chidambaram the Bill which seeks to replace the Ordinance issued on February three.
Law minister Ashwani Kumar, who will be part of the EGoM, said the group has been asked to evolve consensus by Friday so that the Bill could be tabled and voted upon in Parliament before March 22, when the Budget Session goes into month-long recess. The Ordinance will lapse on April 4.
Another senior minister, however, said the EGoM would give its report by tomorrow night and the Bill is expected to be taken up by the Cabinet again on Thursday.
The Cabinet meeting this morning, chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, saw some ministers like the law minister insisting on adequate safeguards with regard to provisions on stalking to check against false complaints, sources said.
There were also differing views on the provisions regarding voyerism, which is proposed to be made criminal offence, and lowering of age of consensual sex to 16 years from the current 18 years.
Women and child development minister Krishna Tirath is strongly opposed to lowering the age of consent.
The government, which is keen to bring the law expeditiously in the backdrop of uproar over Delhi gangrape, had convened the special meeting of the Cabinet to clear the bill.
The EGoM will also include Tirath, home minister Sushilkumar Shinde and telecom minister Kapil Sibal.
"There were various issues on which there was no unanimity. That is why the Prime Minister thought of forming an EGoM," Ashwani Kumar told reporters outside Parliament House.
Shinde, whose ministry is piloting the Bill, expressed confidence that the legislation will be passed by March 22.
The law minister is learnt to have flagged the issue of adequate safeguards against false complaints, particularly over what amounts to stalking and voyeurism.
Stalking and voyeurism were for the first time defined as criminal offences in the Ordinance.
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 gang-rape.
The Ordinance has to be approved by Parliament before it goes into recess on March 22, failing which it would lapse.
Lengthy inter-ministerial consultations had taken place on the issue of lowering of the age of consent from 18 years to 16 with the Women and Child Development Ministry strongly opposing the move.
As per the law, sexual intercourse under the age of consent is considered rape.
The bill retains a key provision of the ordinance under which if rape leads to death of the victim or leaves her in a vegetative state, it can also attract death penalty. The minimum punishment is 20 years in jail which may extend upto the "natural life" of the convict.