New Delhi: Parliament on Thursday approved a bill that aims to strengthen the country's law on sexual assaults against women with stringent punishments for offences like rape, stalking, voyeurism and acid attacks.
The new law will come into effect after President Pranab Mukherjee gives his assent. It will replace an ordinance which the government introduced last month.
President Mukherjee is expected to give his assent before the expiry of the interim law on March 22.
"We have tried to bring in a strong law, which is pro-women and will act as a deterrent," Union Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde told lawmakers in Rajya Sabha on Thursday before approval.
The Lok Sabha had cleared the bill on Tuesday.
India is strengthening the country's law against sexual assaults following widespread public demand after the gang rape of a 23-year-old woman in New Delhi on a running bus on the night of December 16.
The proposed law maintains death as the maximum penalty in case of rape where the victims dies or slips into a coma, as was the provision in the interim law.
It also defines stalking and voyeurism as crimes with punishments up to seven years. The two terms weren't part of Indian criminal laws, leaving ambiguity about such offences.
The government initially proposed to make stalking and voyeurism offences which won't get bail. But some lawmakers sought safeguards while making these non-bailable as they said the accused may find it hard to defend themselves on some occasions, leading to the possibility of misuse of the law and unjust punishment.
Agreeing to this demand, the government made stalking and voyeurism bailable for first-time offenders. However, bail won't be granted in case of repeat offences.
The government also agreed to the demand to retain the minimum age under law for consensual sex at 18. One of the key proposals in the draft bill was to lower the age for consensual sex to 16, which was opposed by several political parties.
The bill proposes to make attempts to disrobe a woman in private a crime. According to the ordinance, such acts committed only in public places are considered crimes.
It also provides for imprisonment of at least 10 years for causing permanent damage to a woman's body by throwing acid.
The proposed law has included a provision which makes it mandatory for all hospitals to provide medical treatment to rape victims, failing which those in charge of hospitals could face up to one year of imprisonment and a fine.
These changes allowed it get the support of opposition parties.
"Its a good step in the right direction," said senior BJP leader M.Venkaiah Naidu.
"The government must also ensure timely and speedy justice," he added.