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SC notice on plea for statutory framework to curb torture, custodial violence

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Monday sought the central government’s response on a plea seeking to put in place a statutory framework to curb torture and custodial violence and punish those involved in the abuse of human dignity.

The bench of Chief Justice T.S.Thakur and Justice A.M. Khanwilkar issued notice on a PIL by senior counsel and former Union Law Minister Ashwani Kumar, seeking that India meets its constitutional and international commitments to prevent the torture and custodial violence.

Ashwani Kumar, who appeared in person, also sought empowering the National Human Rights Commission with necessary statutory powers so that it could enforce its orders and directions.

The court also sought response from the NHRC.

Ashwani Kumar cited the instance of the alleged torture of Delhi University Prof. G.N.Saibaba in Nagpur Jail after he was arrested for his links with a front organisation of a banned Maoist outfit.

The PIL said that because of the absence of law to curb custodial torture and violence, India has not signed the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment which came into force way back in 1987.

It cited Article 21 (Protection of life and personal liberty), Article 51 (Promotion of international peace and security), Article 253 (Legislation for giving effect to international agreements) to back his plea for direction to the central government to put in place a statutory regime to curb torture and custodial violence.

While admitting to his failure as a Rajya Sabha member and Union Minister in pushing a legal regime to curb torture, Ashwani Kumar told the bench that he wants to invoke “the constitutional conscience for protecting the right to dignity of those who are routinely subjected to torture while in custody”.

Pointing out that the central government was in breach of its constitutional obligations under Article 21 and also in breach of its international treaty obligations under Articles 51 and 253, he said that the NHRC was helpless since it cannot enforce its directions nor can it accurately record all the cases of torture in custody.

Urging the court to intervene in the matter, he said it should be ensured that the citizen’s fundamental right to dignity, which is a primary fundamental right, is not violated even when someone is in custody for an act of alleged wrongdoing.

Seeking direction for the time-bound implementation of necessary steps to eliminate custodial torture, he sought putting in place an independent mechanism to probe any such complaints.