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19 years after signing UN Torture Convention, India yet to ratify it

19 years was a too long period to be wasted, when the country earnestly needed to enhance its prestige, image and status abroad as an emerging world power.

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Blame it on tiff or lack of seriousness and coordination amongst central ministries. Nineteen years after putting its signature on the UN Convention against Torture, India is yet to ratify it.

In a scathing comment, Lok Sabha Committee on Assurances has concluded that 19 years was a too long period to be wasted, when the country earnestly needed to enhance its prestige, image and status abroad as an emerging world power.

Even after signing the Convention on October 14, 1997, two critical ministries of external affairs and home affairs, and the legislative department under the ministry of law are still to come to terms on whether to bring a comprehensive stand-alone legislation to bring domestic laws in conformity with the Convention or to just amend the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPc) or the Indian Penal Code (IPC) or leave it to the state governments.

Making a presentation before the parliamentary panel, the MEA representative said that after a lot of deliberations in 2008, it was decided to have a stand-alone legislation to give efforts to the provisions of the Convention. Two years later, the Bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha and also passed by the House on May 6, 2010. However, it remained pending in Rajya Sabha and lapsed with the dissolution of the 15th Lok Sabha.

But since then the MHA changed its mind, informing that instead of bringing in legislation, it was prudent to bring suitable amendments in the existing sections of the CrPc and IPC. In a communication, the MHA stated that most of the states were of the opinion that adequate provisions already exist in the statute book to deal with issues of torture and there is no need for separate enactment.

A trail of e-mails between the two critical ministries suggests that the MEA believed that ratification of the UN convention was not possible till the completion of action involving national legislation. The MHA in a draft cabinet note, addressed to the legislative department, has suggested changes in Section 330 and 331 of IPC, pertaining to torture. But the MHA representative, who was called by the parliamentary panel to depose expressed ignorance about the matter. The legislative department, on the other hand, confirmed that they were in the process of drafting amendments in the code, but want some clarifications from the MHA.

"The entire sequence of events clearly indicates glaring lack of seriousness and coordination amongst the ministries of external affairs, home affairs and the legislative department as well as utter disregard for the assurances given on the floor of the House," the panel stated. It asked the government to fix responsibility on all the officials, and further, since there is no place for organised torture in the modern civilised world, the country needs to occupy an exalted position in the changing world order by ratifying the UN Convention.

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