Almost three months after the Centre assured the Supreme Court that it was "seriously considering" the Law Commission of India report that had recommended ratification of UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, Former Law Minister Dr. Ashwani Kumar has now written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, highlighting the need for an exclusive anti-torture legislation.
In his letter, Dr. Kumar highlights the fact that in 2010, a Select Committee of the Rajya Sabha, which he had chaired, had asserted that the provisions of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 do not specifically define "torture" as clearly as it is defined by Article 1 of the Convention. The Committee had further pointed out that "torture" has not been made a specific offence under the existing criminal laws of the country.
Dr. Kumar then apprises the PM of the nature of deliberations undertaken by the Committee, writing, "The Select Committee comprising of 13 Members of Parliament representing different political parties had extensively deliberated on the legal framework for an anti-torture legislation. As part of the deliberative process, views of the concerned departments of the Union Government, various state governments, jurists, NGO's and experts were obtained. 80 representations and memoranda were considered and existing anti-torture laws in some of the countries were also studied. After in-depth deliberations and extensive hearings, the committee proposed a comprehensive ‘The Prevention of Torture Bill’ 2010 which was considered compliant with the provisions of the United Nations Convention Against Torture."
Noting that India has failed to ratify the Convention despite having signed it as early as in 1997, Dr. Kumar notes that with such non-ratification, India joins countries such as Angola, Bahamas, Brunei, Comoros, Gambia, Haiti, Palau and Sudan. This, he says, "speaks for itself".
He further highlights the results of India's inability to ratify the Convention, writing, "...India’s failure to ratify the UN Convention Against Torture enables the international community to question our commitment to the protection and promotion of human rights and the rule of law. Inaction on this score diminishes our soft power and denies us the moral authority when voicing humanitarian concerns in the international Fora. Proclaimed offenders accused of serious crimes against the Indian State such as Kim Davy, Abu Salem and Jagtar Singh Sohal have sought to evade India's investigative and trial processes alleging the imminent possibility of torture in custody. Jurists and Scholars have consistently pleaded in favour of a law that ensures against custodial torture."
Thereafter, requesting Mr. Modi to look into enactment of such law, he concludes by writing, "Considering that human dignity is a core constitutional value embedded in our civilisational ethos, its sacrosanctity repeatedly asserted by the Supreme Court, the National Human Rights Commission, the Law Commission of India as also the Select Committee of Parliament, may 1 request you to kindly exert the authority of your office in favour of a suitable legislation against custodial torture, if possible during the current budget session of Parliament...
...“Aatam Samman and Sabka Samman” are the non-negotiable fundamentals of our dignitarian Constitution. The case for a standalone anti-torture legislation is indeed compelling in the premises aforesaid."