Retaining the contentious provisions of keeping rape a gender-specific offence and lowering the age of consent for sex to 16 years from 18, an informal group of ministers (GoM) Wednesday cleared the draft criminal laws (amendment) bill.
In addition, the GoM recommended that stalking and voyeurism be included as crimes — a first. Sources said stalking has been made a non-bailable offence while first-time offenders in voyeurism cases will get bail.
The draft cleared by the GoM, along with its suggestions, is scheduled to be taken up by the union cabinet at its meeting on Thursday.
The bill had stumbled at the last cabinet meeting with women and child minister Krishna Tirath opposing the proposal to lower age of consent while law minister Ashwini Kumar had raised concern over provisions related to voyeurism and stalking. Several ministers had demanded more safeguards to prevent possible misuse of the new law.
The GoM, headed by P Chidambaram, however, did not suggest additional checks against frivolous complaints, saying the Indian Penal Code had enough safeguards in place.
“We have gone through every provision and all issues have been resolved. Now, the matter will go to cabinet tomorrow and hopefully, be passed tomorrow,” telecom minister Kapil Sibal said.
But even with the GoM’s hasty clearance of the bill, the government still faces hurdles in meeting the March 22 deadline to get it passed by Parliament before the related ordinance, which it would replace, relapses.
A section of the BJP is said to be opposed to lowering the age of consent while UPA allies SP and BSP have raised concerns over several provisions, fearing their misuse. After cabinet clearance, the bill will go to an all-party meeting, scheduled for Monday, to evolve consensus.