Government set up a Commission of Inquiry to identify lapses and fix responsibility in the gang rape of 23-year-old girl in New Delhi, an issue that was discussed by the Union Cabinet with ministers expressing concern over the incident.
The one-person Commission, to be headed by former Delhi High Court judge Justice Usha Mehra, will also suggest measures to make Delhi and NCR safer for women.
It will submit within three months its report which will be tabled in Parliament along with action taken by the government.
The decision was taken at the meeting which was briefed by Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde on the December 16 incident that shocked the nation and triggered widespread protests.
At the meeting, chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, several ministers expressed anguish at the incident and said the government should walk the extra mile to ensure recovery of the victim and instil a sense of safety among women.
While announcing the decision to set up the Commission, Finance Minister P. Chidambaram appealed to public to “believe” that steps are being taken to find lasting solution to the “problem that has plagued all metropolitan cities.”
The Commission will be in addition to the three-member Committee headed by former Chief Justice of India J.S. Verma which is to suggest amendments in law to provide for quicker trial and more stringent punishment in “aggravated sexual assault” cases amid demands for death penalty.
Sharing public anger over the brutal incident, Mr. Chidambaram said it was a “matter of shame” that the incident happened in Delhi and the Central government has special responsibility.
“It is a shame. As a man, I feel ashamed. All of you here in this room should also feel ashamed. Why do men behave like this? We acknowledge the public anger and recognise it,” Mr. Chidambaram said at the press conference addressed jointly with Information and Broadcasting Minister Manish Tewari.
“We are deeply anguished at what happened on December 16 in Delhi. I join all others in praying for the recovery of the victim,” Mr. Chidambaram said, with Mr. Tewari echoing the sentiments.
Referring to the setting up of the Inquiry Commission and the Justice Verma Committee, the Finance Minister said the government has “serious intent” to address the broader issue of security of women in the country and provide for more stern punishment for such crimes.
“There are three parts to what we are doing,” he said, while noting that the government was working on ensuring punishment to the guilty, find out what went wrong and amend laws dealing with crimes against women to provide for more stern penalty and faster trials.
He said courts also must help by fast-tracking such cases as there has been huge pendency.
Expressing gratitude to Delhi High Court Chief Justice D Murugesan for announcing setting up of fast-track courts from January three, the Finance Minister hoped other High Courts will also follow suit.
Replying to questions, Tewari refused to “concede” that the widespread protests, which even turned violent, reflected failure of the leadership. He said it was an emotive issue and the government had no problem with peaceful protests but there should have been no violence.
Mr. Chidambaram said the developments of last one week showed a “new phenomenon” of “flash mobs” resorting to protests and the government was not fully prepared to deal with such situations.
“Lessons have been learnt,” said the former Home Minister, adding new standard operating procedures (SOPs) will need to be devised to deal with such situations.
To a question, Mr. Chidambaram said the changes in law that could take place in the future would not apply to the December 16 case as such amendments apply with prospective effect only.