Custodial torture shocks constitutional conscience: Plea in SC

RSTV Bureau
File photo of Supreme Court of India.

File photo of Supreme Court of India.

The Supreme Court today has sought the view of National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) on a plea seeking framing of an effective law to prevent torture and inhuman treatment of individuals in custody. Senior advocate and former Union law minister Ashwani Kumar moved the apex court seeking directions to empower agencies like NHRC with necessary enforcement capabilities and mechanism to implement its orders and directions.

A bench comprising Chief Justice JS Khehar and justices DY Chandrachud and L Nageswara Rao issued notice to Registrar General of NHRC for its response on the plea. The court has also sought for the participation of a lawyer who usually represents the rights body.

Solicitor General Ranjit Kumar, appearing for the Centre, contended that a writ petitioner cannot seek a legislation through the court as the issue fell under the domain of the Executive and the Legislature. Though he assured that Centre will file its response in an affidavit soon.

The court also appointed activist and senior lawyer, Colin Gonsalves, as an amicus curiae in the matter.

Referring to Delhi University Professor GN Saibaba, a 90 per cent physically disabled and wheelchair-bound person who was allegedly brutalised by police in Nagpur Jail, the petitioner said that torture meted out to thousands of prisoners in custody “shocks the constitutional conscience”.

Despite being a signatory to the United Nations’ Convention Against Torture, 1997, India has not ratified the convention so far since ratification requires an enabling legislation to reflect the definition and punishment for ‘torture’, Ashwini Kumar said while arguing his plea.

The “absence of a standalone, comprehensive, and purposeful municipal legislation in India for prevention of custodial violence, and disinclination of the Executive and Legislature to enact a law in this regard has resulted in a disturbing void in law endangering the constitutional right of persons affected by custodial violence and torture,” the plea said.

It sought a direction to the Centre to ensure an effective law and its enforcement to fulfil the constitutional promise of human dignity and prevention of custodial torture.

The petition sought issuance of guidelines for timely and effective investigation of complaints of torture and custodial violence and directions be given to the government for rehabilitation and compensation for the victims.

It further sought direction to the States and Union Territories to establish and ensure an independent mechanism for investigation into complaints of custodial torture and to take necessary steps.

(With inputs from the PTI)