Politician may get truth drug test

Indian police want to use drugs in a high-profile embezzlement case. (Reuters)

Indian police want to use drugs in a high-profile embezzlement case. (Reuters)

It is the sort of scene that belongs in a film noir: a difficult suspect being injected with a dose of “truth serum” in an attempt to elicit a confession. But some detectives in India still swear by so-called narco­analysis despite India’s highest court’s ruling that it was not only unreliable but also “cruel, inhuman and degrading”.

The technique is back in the news after officers from India’s Central Bureau of Investigation asked a judge for permission to administer sodium pentothal to a high-profile Indian politician and his financial adviser embroiled in a corruption case. The drug is a barbiturate that acts on the central nervous system, dissolving anxiety, inducing drowsiness and even unconsciousness.

Bureau investigators made the application in a bid to prove embezzlement allegations against Jagan Mohan Reddy, the charismatic son of YS Rajasekhara Reddy, the former chief minister of Andhra Pradesh in southern India, who died in a mysterious helicopter crash in 2009.
They argue that the technique is warranted because neither Reddy nor his auditor are co-operating with the inquiry.

Reddy Jr has protested vehemently against the use of narco-analysis on the grounds that a supreme court ruling in 2010 held that such tests were illegal without consent from the individuals.

But Dr Gandhi PC Kaza, chairperson of the Truth Lab, India’s first independent forensic service, said despite narcoanalysis being “­unscientific, undemocratic, illegal and inhumane”, it was still used with enthusiasm in certain Indian states – notably Gujarat and Karnataka. He condemned the practice, saying it had “no place in the world’s greatest democracy”.

There are no official figures for the number of suspects who have been subjected to narcoanalysis, but VH Patel, deputy director of the directorate of forensic sciences, Gandhinagar, in Gujarat, western India, said he had personally conducted narcoanalysis in nearly 100 cases. He insisted that the procedure was safe and ethical. “There is no violence involved. It’s a good methodology that helps the investigation,” he said. “After all, there has to be justice for the victims.”

Patel said he worked with a team of three other scientists to administer the tests, as well as a psychiatrist and an anaesthetist.

“It takes almost a week to test a single person. We conduct various medical tests and interviews with them. It’s an important methodology but we cannot say how accurate it is in the end.”

Many experts believe narco-analysis can be classed as torture under the United Nations convention against torture. Although India signed the convention in 1997, its Parliament never ratified it. – © Guardian News & Media 2012

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