In the wake of the rape and murder of the 26-year-old veterinary doctor in Hyderabad which evoked widespread outrage across the country, the Andhra Pradesh cabinet approved a draft law, which seeks to conclude the judgment in rape cases within 21 days, and to give death penalty to convicts in cases of ‘heinous offences of rape and gangrape’. A cabinet note that TNM has accessed states that the time taken to pronounce judgment has been reduced from 4 months to 21 days in cases where there is conclusive evidence.
The cabinet has approved two different Bills for ‘strengthening the provisions relating to crimes against women and children.’ The Andhra Pradesh Criminal Law (Amendment) Act 2019 or Andhra Pradesh Disha Act seeks to amend the Code of Criminal Procedure for ‘heinous offences of rape’, so that in the presence of ‘adequate conclusive evidence’, the investigation must be done in 7 working days, and the trial must be completed in 14 working days, reducing the total judgment time to 21 working days.
Ever since Chief Minister Jagan spoke about the amendments, there has been much debate on whether completing investigation and trial in such a short period was feasible. A source in the government told TNM that in cases where forensic and other reports would take time, or the accused had not been nabbed, the time for completing investigation will be increased.
The cabinet also approved the Andhra Pradesh Special Court for Specified Offences Against Women and Children Act, 2019. This allows the establishment of exclusive special courts in each district, which will exclusively deal with crimes against women and children. These courts will take up cases of rape, gang rape, acid attacks, stalking, voyeurism, sexual harassment, and cases under Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act.
The cabinet has also approved the introduction of Section 354E and 354F in the Indian Penal Code, to deal with cases of online abuse and child sexual abuse respectively.
In cases of harassment of women over email, social media or any other digital mode, as per the proposed bill, the first conviction can warrant a jail sentence upto 2 years, and the second and subsequent convictions can lead to imprisonment upto 4 years. In cases of child sexual abuse, the Cabinet approved a decision to increase the terms of imprisonment under POCSO Act (3 years minimum, 5 years maximum) to 5 years minimum and 7 years maximum.
On the first day of the Andhra Pradesh Assembly session on Monday, CM Jagan Mohan had announced that a new law would be brought in to ensure strict action in cases of sexual violence against women. The CM also taked about curbing the availability of alcohol and pornography, suggesting that these factors instigate acts of violence against women. “Though porn sites are blocked, we are not able to control people from watching them. A new bill will be introduced in Assembly addressing all these issues,” Jagan had said.
Reacting strongly to the Hyderabad incident of rape and murder, Jagan asked, “This is an incident for which the entire society needs to bow its head in shame. A 26-year-old doctor was raped and killed and burned, in a pre-planned manner. Her bike tyre was punctured. When such an incident happens, how should one respond? How should the police respond? Politicians?”
He even went on to praise his Telangana counterpart KCR over the reported encounter in Hyderabad where four men accused of rape were shot dead by the police. Several activists, lawyers, and even some police officials have called the Telangana police’s actions extra judicial killings and have condemned it. However, Jagan justified the deaths, and even mocked the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) for conducting a probe into the reported encounter, calling it an indication of the ‘pathetic condition our legislatures are in today."