The Maharashtra Assembly passed the Shakti Act (Shakti Criminal Laws Maharashtra Amendment Act) unanimously, with which it became the second state in India after Andhra Pradesh to approve death penalty for heinous offences of rape and gangrape.
About Shakti Act:
In a bid to curb crimes against woman and children in Maharashtra, the state cabinet unveiled the ‘Shakti Act.’ The Act is modelled on the lines of Andhra Pradesh’s Disha Act, which was brought last year after a veterinarian was raped and murdered in Hyderabad.
Key features of the bill-
- The bill has made changes to the laws on rape, gangrape, acid attacks, sexual harassment under the Indian Penal Code, provisions of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act as well as changes in relevant provisions of the Criminal Procedure Code(CrPC).
- It amends the existing criminal laws to include death penalty as punishment in cases of rape and gangrape, it says that in cases which have the characteristic of offence is heinous in nature and where adequate conclusive evidence is there and the circumstances warrant exemplary punishment, with death.
- The existing law on rape had provisions for death penalty only in cases of repeated offences.
- The Act has also enhanced fines and punishment for offences of sexual violence against women and minors.
- Under the POCSO Act too, punishment for penetrative sexual assault in heinous cases has been enhanced to death penalty.
- The Act requires the trial in these cases to be conducted on a day-to-day basis and completed within 30 working days from the date of filing of the chargesheet.
- It also requires for the investigation to be completed within a month of the FIR which can be extended by another month by the concerned Special Inspector General of Police or Commissioner of Police only for specific reasons given in writing.
- In cases of grievous hurt caused due to acid attacks under Section 326A, the punishment has been enhanced to a minimum of 15 years which can be extended to the remainder of the natural life of the perpetrator along with fine.
- In cases of voluntarily throwing acid or attempting to throw it, punishment under section 326B has been enhanced to a minimum of seven years and a maximum of ten years.
- The fine amount in these cases will be towards medical expenses including plastic surgery and face reconstruction.
- Section 354E has been inserted to the IPC for intimidation of women by any mode of communication, in addition to insulting modesty.
- In the category of persons who are liable to aggravated punishment for rape, the Act has included those staffers or contractual employees who are providing security or maintenance to a building.
- The Act has also made it mandatory for social media platforms, mobile data companies to share data sought for the purposes of investigation in cases of rape, sexual harassment, acid attacks and relevant provisions under the POCSO Act within three working days or face imprisonment for a maximum of three months and/or a fine of Rs 25 lakh.
- The Act has also included a provision under for punishment between 1-3 years and a fine of up to Rs 1 lakh for any person “who makes false complaint or provides false information against any person solely with the intention to humiliate, extort, threaten, defame or harass” in cases of rape, sexual harassment and acid attacks.
- The Act states that bail in cases of acid attacks, rape and gangrape can be decided only by sessions court and higher courts. Grant of anticipatory bail in such cases has also been prohibited.
- With the passage of the Bill, it became the second state in India after Andhra Pradesh to approve death penalty for heinous offences of rape and gangrape.
Criticism of Shakti Act
- The enhancement of punishment to death penalty can be counter-productive.
- It could endanger lives of victims since punishment for murder and rape could both attract a death penalty.
- Data doesn’t prove the death penalty is a deterrent. Governments that want to look like they are ‘tough on crime’ are quick to respond to these calls.
- In a large number of rape cases (94.6% of cases in 2016, for instance, according to the National Crime Records Bureau), the accused is known to the victim. Having the threat of the death penalty looming over the case may make victims less likely to report cases of sexual violence, or even face increased pressure from their families to keep the matter to themselves.
- ‘Tough’ criminal laws can target weaker sections. A study from earlier this year, for instance, found that the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes are overrepresented in Indian prisons – one in every three undertrials is either SC or ST. In addition, three-quarters of death row prisoners in India are from ‘lower’ castes or religious minorities, another study found.
Status of women safety in India
- Women safety involves various dimensions such as Sexual harassment at workplace, rape, marital rape, dowry, acid attack etc.
- The United Nation’s ‘Safe Cities and Safe Public Spaces’ programme, which started in 2010, recognized that cities all around the world were becoming unsafe for women.
- The latest NCRB data for the year 2016 shows that Overall crimes against women have risen by just about 3%, whereas incidents of rape have gone up by 12%.
- Majority of cases categorized as crimes against women were reported under ‘Cruelty by husband or his relatives’ (32.6%). This draws a bleak picture of women safety in private places or home.
Laws for women against sexual crimes
- Section 354 of the IPC criminalises any act by a person that assaults or uses criminal force against a woman with the intention or knowledge that it will outrage her modesty. Such an act is punishable with either simple or rigorous imprisonment.
- Section 375 of the IPC made punishable the act of sex by a man with a woman if it was done against her will or without her consent. Her consent has been obtained by putting her or any person in whom she is interested, in fear of death or of hurt is considered to be Rape. Sex with or without her consent, when she is under 18 years is considered rape.
- Section 114A in the Indian Evidence Act of 1872 presumes that there is absence of consent in certain prosecutions of rape if the victim says so. This applied to custodial rape cases.
- Section 228A makes it punishable to disclose the identity of the victim in Rape case.
- The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012: Enacted to provide a robust legal framework for the protection of children from offences of sexual assault, sexual harassment and pornography. The framing of the Act seeks to put children first by making it easy to use by including mechanisms for child-friendly reporting, recording of evidence, investigation and speedy trial of offences through designated Special Courts.
- Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013: To ensure women’s safety at workplace, this Act seeks to protect them from sexual harassment at their place of work. 36 % of Indian companies and 25% among MNC’s are not complaint with the Sexual Harassment Act according to a FICCI report.
- Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act, 1986: prohibits indecent representation of women through advertisements.
- Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005: enacted to protect women from domestic violence – including not only physical violence, but also other forms of violence such as emotional/verbal, sexual, and economic abuse.
Capital Punishment in India
- Prior to the Criminal Procedure (Amendment) Act (Cr PC) of 1955, the death penalty was the rule and life imprisonment an exception in India. Further, the courts were bound to give an explanation for awarding a lighter penalty than death for capital offences.
- After the amendment of 1955 courts were at liberty to grant either death or life imprisonment. As per Section 354 (3) of the Cr PC, 1973 the courts are required to state reasons in writing for awarding the maximum penalty.In concurrence of this, a proposal for the scrapping of the death penalty was rejected by the Law Commission in its 35th report 1967.
- The Indian Penal Code prescribes ‘death’ for offences such as
- Waging war against the Government of India. (Sec. 121);
- Abetting mutiny actually committed (Sec. 132);
- Giving or fabricating false evidence upon which an innocent person suffers death. (Sec. 194);
- Murder (Sec. 302);
- Direct or indirect abetment of sati is punishable with Death penalty under the Commission of Sati (Prevention) Act, 1987.
- Under SC and ST (Prevention of Atrocities Act), 1989 giving false evidence leading to the execution of an innocent member belonging to the SC or ST would attract the death penalty.
- Besides these, rape of a minor below 12 years of age is punishable with death under Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012.
- Financing, producing, manufacturing as well as the sale of certain drugs attracts the death penalty for repeat offenders under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985.
- Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967; Army, Navy and Air Force Acts also provide the death penalty for certain specified offences committed by members of the armed forces.
Source: Indian Express