Hyderabad: The Andhra Pradesh assembly Friday passed a bill that seeks to punish sexual crime against women as well as online harassment.
Named in honour of the Hyderabad veterinarian raped and killed on the city’s outskirts last month, the AP Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill 2019 aka “AP Disha bill” prescribes up to four years in jail for people who harass women with offensive content on social media.
Other provisions include a 21-day deadline for investigation and trial in heinous cases of rape where conclusive evidence, including DNA, is available. The current time limit is four months.
The two provisions require amendments to the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) and the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
Since law and order is a concurrent subject, the bill will now be forwarded to Delhi for presidential assent, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy said in his concluding remarks during a debate in the assembly on the bill.
As the bill was discussed, Reddy was all praise for last week’s “encounter” in neighbouring Telangana where four men accused of raping and killing the veterinarian were shot dead during an alleged escape bid.
“We cheer and clap when we see police officers or heroes deliver such instant justice in movies. Something similar has happened in Telangana for real,” he said. “Hats off to those men who provided confidence to parents to send their daughters outside again.”
In the same breath, he questioned the investigations launched by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and the Supreme Court into the encounter, which some have labelled an “extrajudicial killing” meant to assuage public anger.
“But now we have the NHRC and the Supreme Court’s probe committees. What will they prove? They say the rape that happened is heinous but the police encounter is also deplorable,” Reddy said.
“Facing such probing situations (of their actions), what can a government or its police do? They will turn cold and that would encourage perpetrators again.
“…We had brought in the Nirbhaya law but those criminals are unpunished even after seven years,” he said. “In such a scenario, how would a parent or anyone have faith in our justice system?”
The bill’s provisions include increasing the jail term for sexual assault on children to 14 years.
Under the bill, online harassment of women will earn offenders a two-year jail term the first time, and four years if they repeat the crime.
The assembly also passed a separate bill — the Andhra Pradesh Special Court for Specified Offences Against Women and Children Bill 2019 — to set up 13 dedicated courts, one in each of the state’s districts, to hear cases of crime against women, including rape, gang rape, stalking and voyeurism.
While it seems to address the public outrage triggered by crime against women, the 21-day period for concluding investigations and trials have been termed “short” by some observers.
“Bringing a law to conclude such cases in 21 days is fine but the period is extremely short,” said Gopal V., an advocate in the Mahbubnagar district court.
“There is a possibility that police, under pressure to finish their part, might rush through the investigation,” he added.