Faced with nationwide outrage over the recent gangrape, the government has promised sweeping changes in criminal law dealing with crimes against women. But its similar public resolve three years ago on making a tough law against molestation still remains a non-starter.
In December 2009, the UPA government had announced many proposals, including amending the Indian Penal Code to enhance the maximum jail term for those found guilty of molestation. The punishment was to increase from two to five years, and the offence was to become non-bailable.
The move came after widespread criticism of the law dealing with molestation after a former top Haryana cop was sentenced to merely six months' imprisonment 19 years after he had molested a minor. Taken aback, the law ministry had also prepared a draft of the proposed Sexual Crimes (Special Courts) Bill 2010, which provided for the completion of the trial in such cases within six months.
According to the draft bill, no accused could be released on bail unless the public prosecutor was given a chance to oppose the plea. It also proposed allowing police to arrest the accused without a warrant.
The draft bill moved back and forth between the law and home ministries as there were many differences of opinion. After three years went by, the two ministries finally agreed to include enhanced punishment for molesters in the Bill, which was introduced in Parliament on December 4.
Law ministry officials admitted that changes in criminal law was a complex process. The nodal ministry for finally getting the amendments ratified by Parliament is the home ministry. Even state governments have to be consulted since law and order is a state subject.