New Delhi: After the union cabinet approved an ordinance to effect changes in laws against sexual crimes, the government Saturday said it was open to consultation and changes after women's groups urged the president not to sign it.
"Justice (J.S.) Verma committee and public opinion were both of the view that something needs to be done with a sense of urgency. All you can do is when the parliament is not in the session is to bring an ordinance, which is what we have done," said External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid on the sidelines of a function here.
"It does not mean that widespread consultation cannot take place when the actual bill is brought into parliament," he said.
"I'm sure the women organisation as well as all the political parties will come together for widespread consultation with all sensitivity this area of law requires."
Law Minister Ashwani Kumar also said the government would be happy to review the ordinance if required.
"There may be difference of perception but a lot of effort has gone into it (the ordinance)," he told NDTV news channel.
The move, he said, "was a message to women that they need not feel insecure".
Asked why marital rape was left out of the ordinance, he said: "No case of sexual assault has been left out of remedy".
On including death penalty in rare cases, the minister said the Supreme Court had been giving such punishment earlier.
"We have given it a statutory backing," he said.
The ordinance, based largely on Justice Verma's report, proposes enhanced punishment, including death in rare instances, in cases of crimes against women, including sexual assault, acid attacks, voyeurism and trafficking.
The women's groups said the ordinance betrayed people's faith and lacked in transparency while questioning its timing with the parliament's budget session starting Feb 21.
They said the government had stealthily cleared the draft without sharing it with the public and without debating and discussing it," said Kavita Krishnan, secretary, All India Progressive Women's Association (AIPWA).
"It is an absolute mockery of the panel's recommendations. We were alarmed to see the ordinance as it ignored many recommendations of that committee.
"The government has stealthily passed this ordinance without sharing it with the public and without actually debating and discussing it. All the recommendations than can actually strike at the heart of impunity have been dropped," she said.
Some women activists said they would take to streets as they had done after the gang-rape of the physiotherapy student in the national capital Dec 16.
The widespread anger among people after the incident forced the government to set up the panel, which submitted its report last week.
The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) refused comment on the ordinance.
"I don't want to comment on the details," party leader M. Venkaiah Naidu, who heads the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs, told reporters in Hyderabad.
"We are in the middle of an investigation," he said referring to the panel's meeting Monday to examine the Justice Verma Committee report forwarded to it by the Home Ministry.
But Naidu said the job of making an effective law on heinous crimes against women would have been completed in four to five days if the government had agreed to the BJP's demand of a special session or an all-party meeting.