Human Rights

Flawed torture bill needs immediate amendment

New Delhi: The Prevention of Torture Bill, already passed by the Lok Sabha on 6 May must be thoroughly amended by the Rajya Sabha. Instead of strengthening existing legal sanctions it would dilute them according to a few observers. The bill is to fulfil the country’s obligation under the United Nations Convention Against Torture (CAT). India signed the Convention in 1997 yet she remains the only democracy which has not yet ratified it.

The definition of “torture” itself does not tally with the CAT’s definition of the term. According to CAT torture implies any act done by or with the consent of or acquiensence of a public official “by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person.” The Indian version narrows it down when it states in section(3): torture will be said to have been inflicted only when (i) grievous hurt to any person; or (ii) danger to life, limb or health… for obtaining information or confession. In other words, torture that is inflicted as a form of punishment, intimidation or coercion will not be considered “torture” under the new law. Nor will any torture visited on an individual solely on account of religion, caste, gender or economic status will be deemed so.

The omission of such situations is unforgivable because torture is inflicted for these very reasons. Moreover, while the CAT speaks of “severe pain or suffering” whereas the bill puts it as “grievous hurt” or “danger to life, limb or health”. Electric shocks, water boarding and the insertion of chilli powder in the sensitive parts of an individual’s body will cause severe pain without endangering health or causing “grievous hurt.”

The Section(4) while dealing with punishment to the public servant says will liable to 10 years punishment if torture is (b) on the ground of his religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, caste or community… etc. Thus a class, torture victims, has been specified. Hence the officer may escape punishment if he manages to stay clear of these specified identities.

Another flaw with the bill is the specification of six months limit under section (5). This would be difficult to adhere in case of custodial torture. Moreover, it imposes the condition that “previous sanction” of the central or state government is needed for a court to take cognisance of an offence.

In view of such anomalies the Rajya Sabha gave notice for amendment motion to refer it to a Select Committee. The notice was moved by Brinda Karat (CPI-M), Prakash Javdekar (BJP), D Raja (CPI), NK Singh (JD-U), Brijesh Pathak (BSP) and others. The notice was admitted.

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-30 September 2010 on page no. 11

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