What is Shakti Bill?
Maharashtra Government tabled two bills on 14th December 2020 in the state assembly: Maharashtra Shakti Criminal Law (Maharashtra Amendment) Act, 2020 (also known as Shakti Bill) and the Special Court and Machinery for Implementation of Maharashtra Shakti Criminal Law, 2020. The former is making the headlines as it contains various provisions that are controversial in nature and needs in-depth discussion. The Shakti Bill is drafted on the lines of Disha Law by Andhra Pradesh.
What is the Disha Law of Andhra Pradesh?
It was in December 2019 when the Andhra Pradesh state assembly passed the Andhra Pradesh Disha Bill 2019 (AP Criminal Law Amendment Act 2019). The Bill was passed after the tragic death of a veterinary doctor due to gang rape in November 2019. The law has several strict provisions relating to various crimes against women. For example: the law sets a deadline of 21 days for the completion of the investigation and trial process (only in cases of rape), sets death penalty as punishment for crimes like rape and gang rape.
The state government has also set up an enabling infrastructure, with an investment of Rs. 87.125 crore, for the implementation of the act such as the creation of Disha Police Stations, formulating Disha App, opening new forensic labs etc.
What do the Shakti Bill talk about?
Shakti Bill talks about making some major changes to the existing set of criminal laws in terms of introducing the death penalty, increasing the quantum of punishment, penalties etc. Some of the major changes that the bill proposes are:
1- The Bill proposes to make changes to three crucial criminal laws of the country: the Indian Penal Code, Code of Criminal Procedure and Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act. The changes are proposed with regard to the provisions of rape, sexual harassment, acid attack and child sexual abuse.
2- The Bill proposes the death penalty in cases of rape, gang rape, rape by persons in authority, aggravated sexual assault of minors and in cases of acid attack when a grievous injury is caused. Bill proposes the penalty of Rs. 10 lakh on those found guilty of these crimes. Current law does not mention the exact amount for fines.
3- In case of aggravated sexual violence, the bill proposes to increase the punishment from the existing five years to seven and in case of seven years to ten.
4- The bill further suggests changes in timelines pertaining to crime investigation by police agencies. The bill suggests an investigation period of 15 days after an FIR is filed, extendable by only seven days. If found in violation, the Investigating Officer will have to report the reasons in writing for the delay to the Commissioner of the Police or Special Inspector General.
5- The bill also provides a time period of 30 days for the trial of the case after the chargesheet is filed. It further provides a deadline of 45 days for an appeal to the higher court.
6- The act gives special mention to crime against women on social media. The provision creates a provision of imprisonment for two years and a fine of Rs. 1 lakh as punishment.
7- The Bill also makes a provision for punishing people who make false complaints with the intention of defaming someone. A person shall face imprisonment for a term of up to one year or fine or both.
8- Most importantly, the Bill includes a provision on the presumption of “valid consent” – not provided under the current law on rape. The Bill lays down that in an instance where rape is committed on the pretext of some assurance or promise of marriage between adults and from the conduct of parties it is clear that the act was with consent or implied consent, it will be presumed as valid consent in eyes of law.
9- The Bill talks about setting up 36 special courts and special investigation teams with at least one women officer.
10- The Bill also makes it mandatory for Internet, telephone providers and social media platforms to share electronic records, data for probes in cases of sexual violence against women and children within seven days or face a punishment of simple imprisonment for one month and a fine up to Rs 5 lakh.
What are the opposing views to the bill?
After huge criticism from the opposition and civil society, the Maharashtra government has referred the bill to the review committee consisting of 21 members. The civil society feels that the Bill is ‘draconian’ and ‘patriarchal’ in nature. Over 90 activists, lawyers, academicians and non-government organizations have written an open letter to the Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray.
Provision related to the presumption of consent is one of the most concerning issues in the Bill for the activists. They fear that it will become impossible for the prosecution to establish rape. Adding such an explanation nullifies the very concept of the crime of rape, according to activists.
However, a recent judgment by Delhi High Court has said that sex on marriage promise is not always rape.
On prescribing the death penalty, civil society explains that it is often the certainty of fair investigation, trial and punishment rather than the severity of a punishment that acts as a deterrent. Moreover, activists also believe that introducing death penalty results in underreporting of the cases, lower conviction rates, threat to victims life and increased mental trauma.
Lastly, on provision for punishment on false cases, the civil society has exclaimed that such provision is based on a patriarchal mindset of viewing women with suspicion and making them unworthy of being believed.
What does NCRB data for Maharashtra say?
As per the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) report 2019, Maharashtra reports the highest missing women and human trafficking (88% women and 6% children) cases in India. The state is also at the fourth spot in terms of most missing children in the country. The state has also recorded an increase of 20% in crimes against children. Abetment to suicide and murders are also some of the major crimes being reported in the state.
(Rishabh is a lawyer and writer. He is Co-founder at TA)
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