New Delhi: The government Monday defended its ordinance on sexual crimes and said it was based on universal demand and was open to public suggestions as parliament would debate the issue.

“The ordinance is only the starting point of a legislative process. I appeal everyone to allow the process to be completed in the budget session,” Finance Minister P. Chidambaram said at a news conference here.

“The government came to the conclusion that there was a strong case for the ordinance in view of universal demand by people. The government welcomes suggestions from public to replace the ordinance with a bill in parliament,” he said.

“There will be discussions with political parties. These consultations will afford ample opportunity to make changes in the ordinance. The bill passed by parliament will reflect the broadest possible consensus on the imperative and urgent need to have an effective law to protect women and to punish crimes against women,” he added.

The clarification came a day after President Pranab Mukherjee gave his assent to the ordinance despite appeals from women’s groups to wait till there was a broader consensus on issues related to women’s safety.

Stating that the government had tried to act promptly on Justice Verma’s recommendations, Chidambaram said: “The ordinance will have a deterrent effect on potential criminals during the period between now and the date on which the new law will be enacted by parliament.”

However, the finance minister agreed there were “difficult issues” arising out of the suggestions made by the panel headed by former Supreme Court chief justice J.S. Verma.

On reservations expressed by women’s groups on certain issues, Chidambaram said the government has not included some clauses recommended by the Justice Verma panel but had not rejected anything.

“Some clauses like AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act), marital rape and lowering the age of juveniles need more discussions,” he said.

Talking about the benefits of the ordinance, Chidambaram said: “The amendments are intended to protect a victim’s dignity, curb police excesses and facilitate better evidence recording.”

“These provisions will ensure fair and speedy trial of such cases and more stringent punishment to the convicted people,” said Chidambaram.

Calling on all political parties to support the government in getting the bill passed, Chidambaram said: “I hope other parties see this in a sensitive manner. I request the opposition to help us build broader consensus on anti-rape laws.”

Information and Broadcasting Minister Manish Tewari said: “If there are objections, the government will look into them with a positive framework and take into consideration whatever is necessary.”

The ordinance calls for enhanced punishment in cases of crimes against women, including sexual assault, acid attacks, voyeurism and trafficking and prescribes death in rare cases.

The ordinance was largely based on the recommendations of the Justice Verma Committee, set up by the government Dec 23, 2012, in the wake of the public outrage over the gruesome gang-rape of a 23-year-old woman Dec 16, who died 13 days later. The panel submitted its report to the government Jan 23.

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