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Anti-torture bill’s cursed for govt wields the lathi

If enacted, it would have been a necessary deterrent against police highhandedness; however, State governments prefer to maintain status quo to use police as a political tool, opine experts

Anti-torture bill’s cursed for govt wields the lathi
Illustration: SAAI


The Prevention of Torture Bill 2010, which would have provided for punishment for torture committed by public servants, is yet to see the light of the day. Though a draft bill was placed in the Parliament in 2017, the lack of response from States, barring eight, has resulted in it gathering dust for the past three years.

While the parties in power keep claiming that the age of third-degree torture is over and India through the bill would conform to its international commitment of eradicating torture from the policing system, nothing concrete has come forth except for growing instances of police brutality and custodial deaths.

In fact, Tamil Nadu, which is yet to respond to the bill, has been dragged to court for its failure in abiding by the Supreme Court direction in the creation of the Tamil Nadu Police Complaints Authority to hear complaints against police personnel and officers.

While the Supreme Court in a bid to ensure impartiality had directed the appointment of a retired high court judge as the chairman of the Authority, the Tamil Nadu government had made the Chief Secretary, the chairman and police officers as board members, thwarting the very purpose of the Authority.

Besides the death of 59-year-old Jayaraj and his 31-year-old son Bennix owing to alleged torture by the Sathankulam police in Thoothukudi, there has been a series of incidents, especially since the lockdown, where police have been grossly exceeding their brief, which ranges from verbal abuse to physical punishments and custodial deaths.

On pointing out that police have largely been used to repress people than to protect them, Advocate M Radhakrishnan said: “It is highly necessary that the bill ought to be made an Act which provides a minimum punishment of three years to a maximum of 10 years not only for public servants who indulge in violence but also for those who instigate it. This is bound to be a deterrent in keeping the police at bay from the ingrained pattern of uncontrolled, aggressive and abusive traits in them.” Section 4 of the lapsed bill provided for 10 years of punishment for the act of torture. But the complaint has to be made by the victim within six months. Further, it required that the prior sanction to prosecute the accused has to be taken from the government concerned. But the prospects of it becoming an Act enabling to act against such public servants remain bleak.

AP Shah, retired Chief Justice, Delhi and Madras High Courts, pointing out in an article that lapse of the State governments in responding to the bill indicates a collective agreement of the State governments that police brutality is a necessary evil to maintain law and order, had said: “Neither the Home Ministry nor this government is likely to take up the torture law. Indeed, the manner in which the torture bill has been treated reveals a betrayal of the people of India by successive governments.” “There have been opportunities for 23 years to enact a law on torture, but they have been studiously avoided. State consultation also has no meaning. It is evident that all governments enjoy the status quo, where the police are used as a tool for self-preservation. Any disequilibrium is not politically desirable,” he said, however, reposing faith in people to build a movement against those practices.

Advocate M Radhakrishnan, while seeking for removal of even use of minimum force in the standard operative procedures in police manuals in any context, said: “Right to live with dignity is a fundamental right under Article 21 of the Constitution. ‘Lathi’ in the hands of the police violates this basic right of the people. The very presence of a policeman with a lathi shocks the conscience of a civilised human being. Unless the lathi is removed from the police, people will continue to be treated like animals.” The anti-torture bill has been a non-starter with the 2017 bill yet to be introduced in the Houses of the Parliament. Legal experts feel that until it becomes a reality, custodial violence and police highhandedness would remain unaccounted and will continue to grow unabated.

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