Sunday, June 6, 2010

Torture bill has escape hatch

New Delhi: Under the guise of making its law conform to the UN convention against torture (CAT), India has actually increased scope for impunity by imposing a special sixmonth limit within which one can complain against a pubc servant for committing such an offence.

This provision figures in the Prevention of Torture Bill Lok Sabha passed on May 6. Though debated briefly before passage, no opposition MP participated. The bill goes to RS in the next session.

Rather than tightening existing law against torture, the bill sneaks in a concession to security personnel accused of causing grievous hurt to suspects in custody. The stipulation that courts can take cognizance of a torture complaint against public servants only within six months of the alleged offence is contrary to CAT and the general scheme of Indian criminal laws.

Besides defining torture in terms of grievous hurt, the bill makes public servants liable to imprisonment up to 10 years, maximum penalty under IPC for grievous hurt inflicted by anybody. The six-month limit is a departure from CrPC, which says that for offences punishable with sentences exceeding three years there shall be no limit on when the cases can be booked.

The government pushed the bill around the time SC likened forcible narcoanalysis to torture. So, the pains taken by the government to exempt ‘‘any pain, hurt or danger ... inflicted in accordance with any procedure established by law’’ from the purview of the torture bill seems out of tune with SC’s verdict.

The bill seems to be designed more to address diplomatic embarrassment over delay in ratifying CAT than increasing accountability of law enforcers for resorting to torture. Human rights defenders are disappointed the bill failed to provide a means to monitor detention centres where suspects are vulnerable to torture.

Another omission relates to the government’s failure to adopt a Law Commission recommendation that the burden of proof in torture cases be on the accused police officials, something the security lobby is vehemently opposed to.

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