Experts differ on Torture Bill

The Prevention of Torture Bill, now with a select committee of Parliament for whetting, zipped past the Lok Sabha with hardly any discussion on it but hit a roadblock in the Rajya Sabha after the BJP and Left parties took stands against it. The BJP maintains the Bill will “handcuff” police officers against criminals and terrorists.

Most of the opposition from experts against the Bill hovered around the definition of torture in it. “The bill describes torture only as suffering grievous  injuries,” said senior Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhusan. Electric shocks and water drowning might not inflict “grievous injuries” but they were still acts of torture, Bhusan pointed out.

The bill merely follows the definition of “torture” in Indian law where the act is described as “grievous injury.” This despite Indian police stations recording roughly over 1,000 custodial deaths annually.

To ratify the UN Convention  against Torture of 1975, of which India was a signatory, the bill would have to do a serious relook into its definition of torture, Maja Daruwala, director of Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, said. According to her, the definition of torture in the bill does not conform to international standards.

“It makes it difficult to bring people who use torture to book. The purpose of the bill must not be just to show on paper that India has made a law against torture, but actually to have an effective deterrent against what is a common practice,” she said.

Another loophole is the lack of provision for compensation in the bill for torture victims. The maximum punishment for the police officials responsible for torture was only 10 years. “Breaking of law by a man in uniform should invite more punishment,” Daruwala said.

She also questioned “the time-limit” of six months for filing a complaint against torture. The “bill thus protects the police, as permission of the Central and state governments is needed to punish the police officer who may have a prima facie case of torture against him,” Bhushan said.

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