Context: The recent alleged killing of father - son duo by the Tamil Nadu police in Sattankulam has raised question pertaining to a need of strong anti-torture law.

More on News:

  • The incident has sparked protest against the unchecked behaviour of policemen who are alleged to turn into law violators themselves, thereby calling for immediate passing of an anti torture law to prevent custodial violenece.

Precedents and Protection available:

  • Although torture is not defined in Indian Penal Code (IPC) but same can be covered through the section of hurt and grievous hurt.
  • The SC further has included psychic torture, environmnetal coercion and tiring interrogations under the definition of hurt.
  • Moreover there is enhanced punishment under IPC for inculcating hurt in order to get a confession.
  • Under criminal procedure code, it is the duty of judicial magistrate to enquire into every case of custodial death.
  • The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has given directions for conducting autopsy under the camera for improving transparency.
  • SC through its landmark judgements like D.K Basu vs State of West Bengal and Nilabati Behra v. State of Orissa has made sure no act of custodial violence goes scot free and the police themselves act within the ambit of law. 
    • Surprise inspections by Non-Official Visitors (NOVs) should also be made mandatory and has also been suggested by the Supreme Court in the DK Basu Case in 2015.

Constitutional provisions against custodial violence

  • Protection from torture is a fundamental right enshrined under Article 21 (Right to Life) of the Indian constitution.
  • The right to counsel is also a fundamental right under Article 22(1) of the India constitution.

Current Scenario:

  • A draft Prevention of Torture Bill was released in 2017 but couldn’t have been passed mainly by the parliament mainly due to its exploitative and harsh provisions like -
    • It included severe pain or suffering as a form of torture but left it undefined.
    • It even allowed death penalty to a police officer which is inconsistent with Law Commission’s 262nd report that has called for restricting the death penalty to terrorism realted cases.
    • The bill called for blanket denial of anticipatory bail to police officers, putting the officers on the highest pedestal of mistrust.
  • India is yet to ratify the U.N. Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhumane or Degrading Treatment (CAT) as recommended by 273rd Law Commission report.
    • Although except for minor discrepancies, the prevalent law in India is adequate and well in tune with the provisions of CAT.

Way Ahead:

  • There is an urgent need to address the root cause of the problem that is poor implementation of existing provisions.
  • India has enough safeguards to prevent cases of torture and custodial deaths irrespective of a dedicated law on torture or Non ratification of UN Convention against torture.
  • Therefore primary focus should be on better implementation of laws and recommendations of various commissions so as to improve the custodial milieu in the country.
  • Police Reforms: Guidelines need to be formulated on educating and training police officials involved in these particular cases

UN Convention against Torture:

  • It is an international human rights treaty, under the review of the United Nations, that aims to prevent torture and other acts of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment around the world.
  • The Convention requires states to take effective measures to prevent torture in any territory under their jurisdiction, and forbids states to transport people to any country where there is reason to believe they will be tortured.
  • It was signed in 1984 and came into force in 1987.
  • It has 170 members including Pakistan and China while India is not a member (as it is only a signatory but has not ratified).