New Delhi: After a court in Gujarat recently sentenced sacked Indian Police Service (IPS) officer Sanjiv Bhatt and constable Pravinsinh Zala to life imprisonment in a custodial death case, the spotlight is now on the enactment of the draft Prevention of Custodial Torture Bill 2017 which promises to end custodial torture.

Bhatt and Zala were given life sentence by the Jamnagar sessions court in a custodial death case dating back to 1990. Here, the duo were charged of torturing and murdering of a 40-year-old Prabhudas Vaishnani who was detained by police during the Bharat bandh call given ahead of BJP veteran L.K. Advani’s rath yatra on 30 October 1990.

Bhatt’s case is not a lone example of custodial death in the country. Last year, on United Nations Day Against Torture (UNDAT), a report called “India: Annual Report on Torture 2018” was presented. The report stated that during 2018, a total of 1,966 custodial deaths were reported to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), including 147 deaths in police custody and 1,819 deaths in judicial custody. The report specially mentioned that these figures do not reflect the extent and actual incidents of custodial deaths and torture in the country. Sandeep Tyagi, a human rights activist and practising lawyer of the Supreme Court, told The Sunday Guardian: “The real picture of custodial torture and death cases is more horrible than what the inconsistent data shows because most of the cases related to custodial torture and deaths are not even being documented.”  “Ironically, the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), which documents crime-related data, does not take account of the custodial torture and death cases and data related to custodial torture and deaths is only sourced from the NHRC,” Tyagi said.

Last year, while answering a question, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) put out a three-year factsheet related to cases of custodial torture and deaths in the Upper House of Parliament. The data showed that a total 434 custodial death cases were registered during 1 April 2014 to 31 March 2017. As per the MHA’s reply, the factsheet is based on NHRC data.

As per experts, the torture is not just happening in police custody, but the scenario is also similar in judicial custody, but the responses from the government to end this situation have allegedly not been there.

Prakash Singh, former DGP and a champion of police reforms campaign, said:  “Generally, it is assumed that the torture happens only in police custody, but the fact is it happens in judicial custody, juvenile homes and de-addiction centers too. In my opinion, torture in judicial custody is a greater crime.”

In 2008, a Prevention of Torture Bill was brought in Parliament, but due to its weak provisions, it was sent to a select committee. The select committee draft was presented in the Upper House in 2010, but it remained stuck ever since.

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