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Needed law to deal with complaints against babus

India, in 1997, signed a major human rights treaty: convention against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (CAT). Though about 150 countries are parties to CAT, Gandhi's homeland hasn't so far ratified it, a necessary sequel to signing a treaty.

The hitch is that the ratification requires a law to be put in place to deal with torture complaints against public servants. And it was only in the last session of Parliament that the Lok Sabha passed the prevention of torture Bill. When the Rajya Sabha takes it up in the monsoon session, opposition MPs should be raising tough questions. The Bill does need to be discussed. For, under the guise of complying with CAT, it actually increases scope for impunity as it imposes a special six-month limit on the time that can be taken to lodge a torture complaint. Rather than tightening the existing law against torture, the Bill sneaks in a concession to security personnel accused of causing grievous hurt to suspects in their custody. The stipulation that the courts can take cognizance of a torture complaint only within six months of the alleged offence is contrary not only to CAT but also to the general scheme of Indian criminal laws.

Besides defining torture in terms of grievous hurt, the Bill renders public servants liable to imprisonment up to 10 years, which is also the maximum penalty under the Indian Penal Code for grievous hurt inflicted by anybody. The six-month limit set for victims of torture to come forward with their complaints is, therefore, a departure from the Criminal Procedure Code, which makes it clear that for offences punishable with sentences exceeding three years there shall be no limit whatsoever on when those cases can be booked.

Built-in deficiencies reinforce the widelyheld impression that the Bill is designed more to address the diplomatic embarrassment over the inordinate delay in ratifying CAT than to increase the accountability of errant law enforcement personnel.

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