Why Verma panel did not suggest death penalty for rapists

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New Delhi, Jan 24: In the wake of brutal Delhi gangrape episode, the entire nation is demanding death penalty for rapists. In protest marches which broke out after gruesome gangrape and murder of a 23-year-old paramedical student in a moving bus in the national capital, almost all the protesters wanted capital punishment for rapists.

However, the report submitted by three-member Justice Verma committee to Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) on Wednesday, Jan 23 suggested life imprisonment for gangrape but no death penalty.

The panel was headed by former Chief Justice of India JS Verma. The other members of the committee were Justice (Retd) Leila Seth, former Chief Justice of Himachal Pradesh High Court and former Solicitor General of India Gopal Subramaniam. The three-member Justice Verma panel was set up to suggest tougher laws for crimes against women.

People Protest against Delhi rape

"Gangrape will entail a punishment of not less than 20 years, but which also may extend to life. Gangrape followed by death shall be punished with life imprisonment," Justice Verma told reporters after submitting the report.

"Punishment for causing death or a persistent vegetative state shall be given rigorous imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than 20 years but may be for life also, which shall mean the rest of the person's life," said the 631-page report.

On being asked why death penalty for rapists has not been recommended by Justice Verma committee, Justice Verma said, "because there were overwhelming suggestions from the women organisations against it."

The Verma committee received around 80,000 suggestions from across India. One of the opponent of death penalty for rapists is NALSAR University of Law. NALSAR University has strongly opposed the imposition of death penalty for the accused in rape cases.

"Any harsh punishment requires high standards of evidence. And the death penalty also requires very clinching evidence. In the given circumstances, finding evidence for rape is extremely difficult, as in most of the cases, the only evidence is the victim herself. Only in rare cases, there will be another evidence, as was the case in Delhi rape incident," Professor in NALSAR University of Law Dr Sridhar Madabhushi told Mail Today.

Sridhar, who is also a coordinator for Centre for Criminal Justice Administration and Human Rights in the university, said there was already a provision in the law to award death sentence to the accused in the rarest of rare cases. "The Delhi gangrape incident comes under this category and there is substantial evidence in this case. Such incidents can be considered for death penalty," he said.

He pointed out that Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code calls for a life sentence or death. "It cannot be a minimum punishment. If rape is included under this section, it provides for excessive delegation of authority to the government and then to judiciary. No act can be allowed to give arbitrary or extraordinary powers to any authority," he said.

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