The Delhi gang rape case had its first major impact on Friday as the cabinet approved the death penalty for rapists who cause grievous physical or mental damage to their victims - such as leaving them in a permanent vegetative state - among a host of changes to laws on crimes against
Showing unprecedented urgency by choosing not to wait for Parliament's budget session that is 20 days away, the government approved an ordinance that includes key recommendations of the Justice JS Verma panel, and went beyond it to bring in the death sentence - the demand of millions of protesters in the wake of the brutal crime.
The ordinance will become law as soon as the President signs it and requires Parliament's approval within six months, which the government plans to complete in the budget session.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh convened the special cabinet meeting soon after he met Congress president Sonia Gandhi in the morning.
A few hours later, senior Congress leaders had another round of meetings where home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde presented the broad contours of the proposed ordinance.
Though the government had kept a two-day window at the start of the budget session to consider passing bills relating to women, government sources said the Congress leadership opted for the unusual step of issuing the ordinance to placate public sentiment.
It was also decided to leave out the Verma panel recommendation of lowering the age of consent for sex from 18 to 16 years.
Finance minister P Chidambaram, oil minister Veerappa Moily and law minister Ashwini Kumar had reservations on any hurried decision on this count.
The FM said it would be premature to take a call at this stage since the government is yet to discuss all suggestions received from different sides and also, the parliamentary standing committee report on the Verma panel is awaited.
The panel's recommendation to make marital rape a criminal offence was also not accepted.
The ordinance lays down a comprehensive framework for dealing with crimes against women and replaces the word 'rape' with a wider definition of sexual assault.
The new law provides for varying punishments for rapists, depending on the gravity of the crime.
A rape conviction will lead to imprisonment ranging from seven years to life, while gang rape will invite a minimum of 20 years behind bars.
Rapists who cause death of a victim will automatically invite the murder charge, which carries the death penalty in rarest-of-rare cases.
The government also accepted the panel's recommendation on making stalking, disrobing a woman and voyeurism offences under criminal law.
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