The Rajya Sabha on Tuesday approved a landmark law allowing the trial of criminals between 16 and 18 years as adults in heinous crimes like rape, three years after the brutal sexual assault on a paramedic student in Delhi roused the nation out of slumber.
However, the amended sections of the Juvenile Justice Act will have no bearing on the December 16, 2012 case and the juvenile convict who was released from a care home on Monday. The Juvenile Justice Board (JJB), however, will determine if the offender should be tried as an adult.
Under the new law, juveniles between 16-18 years convicted in heinous crime face a maximum of seven years in jail. The bill has already been passed in the Lok Sabha.
The parents of the victim – who had died a few days after the assault by six men on a moving bus – were present in the Upper House when lawmakers cut across party lines to make emotional appeals for lowering the age for trying juveniles as adults in serious crimes.
“I’m satisfied that the bill has been passed in RS but still unhappy that my daughter didn’t get justice,” the mother of the victim said in reference to the juvenile convict’s release.
The youngster convicted in the gang rape and murder was under 18 at the time of the crime and was tried by the Juvenile Justice Board, which had handed him a three-year term at a correctional facility. The earlier juvenile law treated only those above 18 years as adults.
The other five convicts were handed death sentences by the trial court and later upheld by the high court. One of the convicts was found dead in prison later.
The 2012 gang rape had triggered street protests across the nation, prompting the government to bring in stringent laws to deal with rising incidents of sexual crime against women.
CPM members opposed to the changes walked out of the house before the bill was put to voice vote.
Under the new law, juveniles who commit a lesser offence too may be tried as adults and will face three to seven years of jail term.
The early passage of the bill was made possible after the government managed to secure the support of the Congress, Trinamool and some other parties in the Rajya Sabha where the ruling alliance is in minority.
Moving the bill, women and child development minister Maneka Gandhi made a passionate appeal for its passage saying the legislation was “compassionate” and comprehensive in nature.
She said juvenile crime was the fastest rising segment of the crime and “you cannot have a more comprehensive, more nuanced and compassionate Bill.”
Reaching out to the main opposition, she reminded the Congress that the bill was theirs and not hers or the NDA government.
The Upper House saw a lengthy discussion, during which the Congress and the Trinamool withdrew their notices for sending the bill to a Rajya Sabha select committee.
Congress leaders admitted there were serious differences within the party on the bill while Trinamool MP Derek O’Brien said the current bill was not the best one.
(With agency inputs)