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Madhya Pradesh may soon become the first state in the country where raping a girl aged 12 years or less could invite death penalty, with the state Assembly today passing a bill to this effect.
The landmark legislation, passed unanimously by the House, also provides for tougher punishment for stalking a woman and some other offences against them.
The Penal Law (Madhya Pradesh Amendment) Bill-2017, introduced by Minister for Law and Legislative Affairs Rampal Singh, was passed after a debate during which some Congress members voiced apprehension over tougher sentence for stalking, insisting cases may be registered against innocent people to settle personal scores.
The bill introduced a section--376 (A) (A)--to the Indian Penal Code (IPC) under which a person convicted of raping a girl aged 12 years or below may be awarded death penalty, life imprisonment or a minimum imprisonment of 14 years with a fine.
Similarly, section 376 (D) (A) was introduced for gang rape with girls up to 12 years of age. The convict under this section may be awarded capital punishment, life imprisonment or a minimum of 20 years in jail, besides a fine.
Under both the sections, the convict awarded life sentence will have to remain in jail till death.
The bill also amended the IPC section 493 (A) (cohabitation caused by a man deceitfully inducing a belief of lawful marriage), under which a person could be jailed up to three years for establishing sexual relations with a woman on the pretext of marrying her.
The legislation provides for a minimum imprisonment of 3 years that may be extended up to 7 years for people caught stalking a woman or a girl for a second time and convicted for committing the offence. The amendment to section (354 D) relating to stalking says those convicted will also have to pay a minimum fine of Rs 1 lakh. The first time offender will face jail term up to 3 years in addition to fine.
Similarly, the second time offender in cases under section 354 (B) (assault or use of criminal force to woman with intent to disrobe) of the IPC would face a minimum punishment of 7 years in jail which may extend up to 10 years, besides a minimum fine of Rs 1 lakh.
For the first time offender, the punishment is between 3 and 7 years of imprisonment in addition to fine.
Except for the first time offence under section 354(D), all offences would be cognisable and non-bailable.
During the debate, some Congress MLAs, including Ramnivas Rawat and Govind Singh, voiced apprehension about possible misuse of some of the provisions. They said some women may file a stalking case to settle a personal score.
They said the perpetrators may kill the victim after raping her in an attempt to destroy evidence out of fear of severe punishment.
Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan assured the members that the government would take appropriate measures if these provisions were misused.
Chouhan said smartphones and Internet are spreading vulgarity among children.
The chief minister said girls are vulnerable to sexual assault from people known to them, with acquaintances and family members being involved in 98 per cent of the rape cases.
The bill was later passed unanimously.
It will now be sent to the President for his assent before it become a law.
"It was a historic day for Madhya Pradesh as the state Assembly, as per the wish of Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, passed a bill making a provision to award capital punishment to those indulging in such crimes (raping girls aged 12 or below)," Singh said.
Chouhan said there are people in society who can be set right only by severe punishments. The legislation will deal with them, he said, adding the government will also raise awareness in society against such crimes.
Madhya Pradesh, the fifth most populous state, earned the dubious distinction of topping the list of rape cases among states. According to the latest National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) data, 4,882 rape cases were reported in the state in 2016.
In 2015, too, Madhya Pradesh had recorded the highest number of 4,391 rape cases in the country.
(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)