TNN | May 3, 2012, 03.57AM IST
KOLKATA: The rising crime against women in the state hasn't escaped the notice of West Bengal Human Rights Commission. The commission - headed by retired Supreme Court judge Asoke Ganguly - has proposed changes in the law to make it an effective deterrent. It has recommended to the state government to increase punishment for such crimes from the present two-year jail term to seven-year term and make the offence non-bailable.
Justice Ganguly said, "The commission in its recommendation has cited the changes made by Odisha and Andhra Pradesh in the first schedule of CrPC, 1993 and Section 354 IPC to give the law more teeth."
This, incidentally, is the first time when WBHRC is using its powers under Section 12(d) of the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993, which empowers it to periodically review constitutional and legal safeguards and recommend measures to make them more effective.
The commission's attention to the issue was drawn by the media reports. It also consulted the National Crime Records Bureau data, which indicates that in the last decade, the number of molestation cases (punishable under Section 354) has increases 10-fold. According to NCRB data, in 1992 the number of such cases was 384. In 1993 it reached 1,074. It increased in the successive years (showing a partial decline in 2001-2002). The highest number of such cases occurred in 2011. The figure was 3,340. The year before, it was 2465.
At present, Section 354 is bailable and punishment is a two-year jail term. This, the commission feels, isn't effective enough. In 1995, Odisha had amended the CrPC (to make the offence non-bailable) and four years before that Andhra had increased the punishment under to a maximum of seven years. Also, the Law Commission in its 84th report (in 1980) and 156th report (1997) had recommended sexual assault be punishable under this section and the punishment increased to a five-year jail term. Most importantly, the commission observed that in many cases, where rape is not proved and the court has to let off the accused with minor punishment even if he is found guilty of outraging a women's modesty. This, it feels, causes a social imbalance and injustice to the victim.
What the commission proposes for Bengal has been done in Odisha and Andhra Pradesh. It proposes to make the law non-bailable like Odisha and wants the punishment increased as in Andhra Pradesh.
It proposes a maximum seven year jail term in Bengal and a minimum of five years. And if somebody is given a jail term less than five years, the reasons for that must be mentioned clearly in the judgment.
The commission's recommendation mentions that social movement in Bengal to protect women's honour was a harbinger for the entire country.
Section 354 IPC - Whoever assaults or uses criminal force to any woman, intending to outrage or knowing it to be likely that he will thereby outrage her modesty, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.
Classification of offence - Cognizable, Bailable and Non-compoundable.
What other states have done?
Andhra Pradesh - Increased the punishment to seven years and not less than five years. If for special reasons, the court gives a lesser sentence it can't be less than two years.
Madhya Pradesh - Extended the punishment term to a maximum of 10 years.
Odisha - Made the offence bailable.
WBHRC's recommendation for Bengal - Increase the punishment to a maximum of seven years and minimum of five years. If less than five years, the reasons have to be mentioned. Make the offence non-bailable.