What is Maharashtra’s Shakti Act and why is it controversial?

admin December 31, 2021
Updated 2021/12/31 at 2:37 PM

The Shakti Criminal Laws (Maharashtra Amendment) Act was overwhelmingly enacted by the Maharashtra Assembly on Thursday, December 23. After Andhra Pradesh, it became the second state in India to accept the death sentence for heinous rape and gangrape offences with the approval of the Bill. Changes to the Indian Penal Code’s rape, gangrape, acid attacks, and sexual harassment legislation, as well as sections of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act and corresponding provisions of the Criminal Procedure Code, were enacted by the Assembly.

What are the most significant changes?

The Act modifies current criminal laws to add the death penalty as a punishment for rape and gangrape “in situations when enough conclusive evidence is present and the circumstances merit exemplary punishment, including death” in cases of rape and gangrape. Only in situations of repeated offences did the previous rape legislation provide for the death sentence. The Act significantly increased the fines and penalties for sexual assault against women and children. The penalty for penetrative sexual assault in heinous cases has also been increased to the death sentence under the POCSO Act.

The Act mandates that the trial, in certain cases, be conducted on a daily basis and finished within 30 working days following the chargesheet’s submission. It further stipulates that the investigation must be completed within one month after the filing of the FIR, with the exception that the relevant Special Inspector General of Police or Commissioner of Police may extend the time limit for specific reasons stated in writing.

In situations of grave bodily harm caused by acid attacks, the penalty has been increased to a minimum of 15 years, which may be extended to the rest of the perpetrator’s natural life, as well as a fine. The penalty for willfully throwing acid or trying to hurl it has been increased to a minimum of seven years and a maximum of 10 years under section 326B. The penalties would be used to cover medical expenses such as cosmetic surgery and face rebuilding in certain circumstances, according to the Act.

What changes have been made to the existing laws?

The Act establishes a specific legal framework for sexual harassment. The IPC has been amended to include Section 354E for intimidation of women by any means of communication, as well as insulting modesty.

Whoever, man, woman, or transgender, does anything to “create a sense of danger, intimidation, or fear to a woman” by any act, including offensive communication by telephone, email, social media, or any other digital mode that is “lascivious or lewd” in nature, is defaming or causing disrepute or uses a woman’s name, particulars, or photographs to violate her privacy or outrage her modesty, will face a maximum of five years in

Staffers or contractual workers who provide security or maintenance to a building have been added to the list of those who are subject to a severe penalty for rape under the Act.

The Act also requires social media platforms and mobile data companies to share data requested for the purposes of investigation in cases of rape, sexual harassment, acid attacks, and other relevant provisions under the POCSO Act within three working days, or face a maximum of three months in prison and/or a fine of Rs 25 lakh.

In cases of rape, sexual harassment, and acid attacks, the Act includes a provision for a punishment of 1–3 years in prison and a fine of up to Rs 1 lakh for anyone “who makes a false complaint or provides false information against any person solely with the intention of humiliating, extorting, threatening, defaming, or harassing that person.”

According to the Act, only sessions courts and higher courts may rule on bail in situations of acid assaults, rapes, and gangrapes. Anticipatory bail has also been disallowed in such circumstances.

Has there been any criticism of the changes?

When the Bill was first introduced last year, 92 signatories signed a letter to the Chief Minister opposing the proposed revisions, including notable attorneys, child rights organisations, and women’s organisations. It has been proposed that increasing the penalty to the death sentence may be counterproductive. It was said that in many situations when the attackers are family members or known to the victims, especially youngsters, finding assistance to approach authorities would be difficult, resulting in crimes going unreported. It was also argued that it would put victims’ lives in jeopardy since murder and rape are both punishable by death. Instead, they argued that current rules might be effectively implemented to make it simpler for victims to get justice.

Justice B G Kolse-Patil, a retired Bombay High Court judge, described the Shakti Act as “draconian,” claiming that it could be used to settle political scores.He also said that when death sentences are abolished across the world, there is a need to reconsider the death penalty as a punishment.

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