The police need new methods to combat custodial torture | opinion | Comment | Hindustan Times
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The police need new methods to combat custodial torture

More than having a new and stand-alone legislation on custodial torture, the need is to hammer on the root cause of the problem and not to ponder only on the symptomatic treatment.

opinion Updated: Dec 14, 2017 18:02 IST
Punjab Police personnel on duty in Mohali. An unfortunate image of being a brute force, inherited from the British Raj, has been stalking the Indian police for decades. In fact, it seems to have become embedded into our society, perhaps based more on perception rather than actual experience.
Punjab Police personnel on duty in Mohali. An unfortunate image of being a brute force, inherited from the British Raj, has been stalking the Indian police for decades. In fact, it seems to have become embedded into our society, perhaps based more on perception rather than actual experience.(Ravi kumar/Hindustan Times)

Disposing a PIL filed by former law minister Ashwini Kumar, the Supreme Court recently refrained from directing the central government to frame a stand-alone law against custodial torture. This was against the backdrop of the government’s admission in court that it was seriously considering the 273rd report of the Law Commission that recommended the ratification of the UN Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhumane and Degrading forms of Treatment (CAT). The CAT, adopted by the UN in 1984 and signed by the government in 1997, has not yet been ratified. Once ratified, it shall be imperative upon the central government to enact a special domestic law against torture.

It is not for the first time that the apex court has expressed its concern over the custodial torture perpetrated by the police. There are a plethora of laws emanating from cases like Nandini Satpathy (1978) and DK Basu (1997) that have held that since custodial torture violates a citizen’s fundamental right to life with dignity, the state shall be responsible for any third degree method used by the police to extract confession from accused persons. This unfortunate image of being a brute force, inherited from the British Raj, has been stalking the Indian police for decades. In fact, it seems to have become embedded into our society, perhaps based more on perception rather than actual experience.

More than having a new and stand-alone legislation on custodial torture, the need is to hammer on the root cause of the problem and not to ponder only on the symptomatic treatment. The police require institutional changes. The Malimath Committee had recommended that an investigating officer (IO) should not investigate more than ten heinous offences in a year and investigation be separated from the law and order duties to improve its quality and avoid short-cuts methods and indulgence in torture, but the report did not get its due credit.

Its implementation needed the induction of more IOs, which will mean an extra burden on the exchequer. The Apex Court’s directions given in the Prakash Singh (2006) case have been circumvented. The use of scientific methods to facilitate investigation is yet to become a norm. The role of forensics still remains secondary. Interrogation tools have not improved over time. Training, the backbone of any institution, is still considered a less privileged and loop-line posting by senior police officers. Due to public and media pressure, police often fall prey to short-cut methods of investigation. Therefore until police infrastructure is improved and departmental bottlenecks are eliminated, even a separate law against torture will not prove to be a panacea.

In fact, a statute does not ipso facto bring about a change in the behaviour and attitude of the targeted section of society. Former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, during the introduction of the anti-dowry bill in the Parliament in 1961, had made an observation that ‘legislation cannot by itself normally solve deep-rooted social problems. One has to approach them in other ways too.’ This observation still holds good; not only for the social problems but also for the tarnished image of the police.

The police must change its attitude and behaviour while dealing with witnesses, suspects and criminals. The state must invest more in its enforcement agencies and ensure that the police lose its perpetual tag of being abusive and torturous. The prevailing discussions about reforms in criminal justice system, particularly policing, must manifest in action. Irrespective of the enactment of a new law, human rights of all must be protected, be it against the state or the police.

RK Vij is a senior IPS officer in Chhattisgarh

The views expressed are personal