Maharashtra to review and redraft the Shakti Bill that proposes fast-tracking of trials for rape and other crimes against women and severe punishment for sexual offenders

Published : December 16, 2020 15:20 IST

Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh. Photo: S. Sudarshan

The Maharashtra government has sent the Shakti Bill, which was tabled in the State Assembly on December 14, to a joint select committee of the House for review after criticism from the opposition parties and women’s rights groups.

The Maharashtra Shakti Criminal Law (Maharashtra Amendment) Act, 2020, and the Special Court and Machinery for Implementation of Maharashtra Shakti Criminal Law, 2020, propose stringent measures to prevent crimes against women. One of the main provisions of the Bill was the death penalty for convicted rapists.

On December 15, Home Minister Anil Deshmukh said that following protests from various quarters, the government had decided to set up a 21-member review committee to help put together a new draft which would be taken up in the March 2021 Budget session of the Assembly.

Rights activists say that the pieces of legislation are regressive. A group consisting of lawyers’ and women’s organisations has written to Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray appealing for a review of the proposed law. The letter, with 92 signatories, says: “While the Act is said to be made for justice to women, it feeds into the patriarchal construction of consent and conduct of women. It goes against the statement and object of this Bill. In a lot of cases of rape, the accused take the plea of consent and, with such an explanation, it will become impossible for the prosecution to establish rape. Such an explanation negates and nullifies the very offence of rape.”

These groups believe that with such a law in place, women would not file complaints as in most cases of rape the perpetrators are known persons. Not many women would want to be seen as responsible for sending a relative to the gallows. They say timely intervention and long-term programmes to fight violence against women would be far more effective. Death penalty for rape can also endanger the lives of victims, say lawyers. Opposition parties, meanwhile, say the Bill was tabled in a hurry and needs further review.

During the campaign for the Assembly election in 2019, the Shiv Sena promised to enact such a law if it came to power. The Bill was modelled on Andhra Pradesh’s tough Disha Act. According to lawyers familiar with the draft Bill, it proposes an increase in the quantum of punishment for perpetrators of rape, acid attacks and sexual assaults on children and fast-track the judicial process in such a way that investigation and filing of charge sheet are completed within 15 days of the crime and trial is completed in 30 days. It proposes to set up special police teams, 36 special courts with a special prosecutor and an online registry of offenders which would be linked to the national registry of sex offenders.

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