Bill was referred to Select Committee following concerns over certain inadequacies in the draft legislation

The Select Committee on the Prevention of Torture Bill, 2010, has recommended stringent punishment for acts of torture by a public servant, including life imprisonment and or death sentence for death caused by torture in custody.

The Bill was passed by the Lok Sabha in May but referred to a Rajya Sabha Select Committee following concerns expressed over certain inadequacies in the draft legislation.

Chairman of the Select Committee Ashwini Kumar told journalists that the report, evidence and amendments to the Bill were adopted unanimously by the nine-memberpanel, all of whom voted on December 2. Three Bharatiya Janata Party members, S.S. Ahluwalia, Kalraj Mishra and Maya Singh, and Bahujan Samaj Party leader Satish Mishra were absent on the day of voting.

Reservations

Mr. Ahluwalia had expressed reservations about bringing in a ‘stand-alone' legislation and felt that it would suffice to amend the present criminal law to meet international obligations. The party, however, did not make any written observations.

The panel report, which was tabled in the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday, has expanded the definition of ‘public servant' by bringing into the ambit of the Bill employees of government-run educational institutions, companies and organisations.

It has also fine-tuned the definition of ‘torture' to bring it in line with the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which India is yet to ratify.

Definition of torture

The definition of ‘torture' in the proposed law will make cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment by a public servant or anyone at his/her instance and which causes severe physical or mental pain, agony, trauma etc. as an act of torture. Acts of sexual abuse against women and torture of children have been added in the indicative list.

On the issue of prior sanction to prosecute a ‘public servant' under the provisions of the legislation, the panel has recommended that “in case no decision is taken on the request for granting sanction [to prosecute the accused] within three months of the complaint, then sanction would deemed to have been granted. Where sanction has been denied, reasons have to be recorded, which would be open to judicial scrutiny.”

“The provisions of prior sanction to prosecute have been retained in order to insulate government officials discharging their official duties diligently, against frivolous and vexatious complaints,” Mr. Kumar said.

Compensation

The panel has recommended provision of compensation to the tune of at least Rs. 1 lakh to the victims of torture. Provision of compensation for rehabilitation of torture victims has also been made in the proposed law. Any authorised representative of the victim of torture would have the right to file a complaint on behalf of the victim.

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