The frequent violence against women and children in India continues as a result of decades of ignorance towards these matters in Indian culture and pale laws which can be easily twisted. Numerous laws have been made in this matter and now Maharashtra Government has taken one more step to eradicate such lethal crimes from the society. The Maharashtra Cabinet approved the preface of two bills referring to the prevention of incidents of violence against women and children in the state.

On December 9, the Maharashtra Cabinet approved the preface of two draft bills, to be introduced in the assembly which is scheduled to begin on December 14. The bills were approved in a State Cabinet meeting presided by Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray. The “Maharashtra Shakti Criminal Law Bill, 2020” has been drafted along with the lines of the Andhra Pradesh Disha Act, 2019. “This draft talks about death punishment for offenders of heinous crime against women and children”, Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh said in the meeting. Once approved by the State Legislature this new act will be called the “Shakti Act, 2020”. Yashomati Thakur, Women and Child Development Minister said, “Its a historic decision”. This law will help us protect women and children of our state.”

According to the reports of the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), 2019 saw over 4 lakh reported cases of crimes committed against women. It reported 32,033 rape cases which translate to shocking 88 rape cases a day, and this is just 10% of all crimes against women. According to a report by Sage Journals, in 2019, around 53% of Indian children reported experiencing various kinds of abuse which included inappropriate touching, assault, nude photography, and sexual abuse. The draft bill which strictly punishes crimes like this was presented by the Maharashtra government which seems to amend relevant sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), Criminal Procedure and Protection of Children (CrPC) and the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act for the proposed law's application in the state of Maharashtra. The draft bills will be tabled in the State Legislature during the Winter Session and once the State Legislature approves the two draft bills, they will be sent to the Centre for Presidential Assent. The draft bills that have been approved have provisions for strict punishment, including the death penalty, life sentence and hefty fines for the criminals, with speedy trials.

In the Maharashtra Cabinet meeting, some other developments were also approved, and they were related to Maharashtra Public Service Commission, Sharad Pawar Gram Samrudhi Yojana, National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, International Sports University Maharashtra 2020, and permission was also given for the making of DY Patil Agriculture and Technical University in Kolhapur. These significant developments were in line with the Maharashtra Shakti Criminal Law Act 2020. In this meeting, Anil Deshmukh said, “This law provides a complete investigation and trial within a stipulated time duration and stringent punishment, including the death penalty and heavy fines, for the culprits”. As many as 36 Special Courts, each having a special public prosecutor have been proposed to be set up to deal with cases registered under the Shakti Act, and some provisions of this draft are given below, which are also the key factors that will assist to cease crimes against women and children in the state.

Key Provisions of Maharashtra's Shakti Criminal Law:

1. After a charge sheet is filed, the trial shall be conducted on a day-to-day basis and completed within 30 working days.

2. Investigation shall be completed within 15 working days from the date of registration of an offence. This can be extended by only 7 days.

3. A sum of Rs 10 Lakh will be given to an acid attack victim for plastic surgery and facial reconstruction and the amount will be collected as fine from the convict.

4. Some cases will be tried in-camera for the recording of evidence of victims and witnesses who are vulnerable.

5. Special Police teams and separate courts will be set up for investigation and trial of cases against women and children.

6. The convict will be punished with imprisonment for life not less than ten years but may extend to life imprisonment with death in cases which have characteristics of being dreadful. Similarly, it proposes uncompromising punishment including the death penalty and heavy fines.

The Shakti Act is shaped on the lines of Andhra Pradesh's Disha Act, which was brought in 2019 after a veterinarian was raped and murdered in Hyderabad, triggering widespread public outrage in the entire nation. With all these laws and amendments for the effective solution against these lethal crimes, a change is also needed in society's perception towards these cases with moral education so that people can understand the criteria of basic humanity.