Vice World News
03 December 2020
By Danish Raza
There have been more than 1700 custodial deaths in the country in the last 10 years.
In a landmark ruling to check excesses in police custody, India’s Supreme Court has ordered the installation of CCTV cameras across police stations and offices of all investigating agencies.
Cameras should be installed at entries, exits, interrogation rooms and other locations “in order to ensure that no part of the police station is left uncovered” read the order issued on Wednesday.
“Most of these agencies carry out interrogation in their office(s), so CCTVs shall be compulsorily installed in all offices where such interrogation and holding of accused takes place in the same manner as it would in a police station,” observed the top court.
Police use torture as a method to coerce suspects into fabricating testimonies and extracting information during the course of interrogation.
Lack of police reforms, absence of laws to check police torture and inadequate grievance mechanisms are some of the reasons why custodial torture and deaths continue unabated in the country.
Reacting to the court order, experts working for police reforms said that merely installing cameras is not enough to address the issue. “The test of whether CCTV cameras can safeguard against custodial torture is if they can lead to genuine police accountability,” Devika Prasad, head of police reforms program at Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, told VICE World News. “This will require strong vigilant systems of reporting and oversight.”
Henri Tiphange, advocate and executive director of People’s Watch told VICE World News, “We still don’t have independent real-time access to such cases. There is no self-generating mechanism to monitor atrocities. We are relying on the person to come forward to report violation rather than having an institution or body that can take suo moto cognizance of such cases.
In the last 10 years, there have been at least five custodial deaths daily in India, according to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) data. “The practice of torturing the suspects in police custody to punish them or [to] gather information or extract confessions continued to be rampant,” noted the National Campaign Against Torture, an anti-torture coalition of NGOs, in its 2019 report.
Indian law allows suspects to be kept in police custody (police has physical access to the person) and judicial custody (prison).
Police must send the arrested person for a medical examination and doctors are supposed to take a note of any pre-existing injuries.
Every person arrested must be produced before a magistrate within 24 hours.
NHRC guidelines say that every custodial death should be reported within 24 hours; filing of first information reports, and a time-bound magisterial enquiry is mandatory in such cases.
Out of 17146 cases of custodial deaths complied by the NHRC, more than 90 percent were reported in judicial custody. The higher number of deaths in prisons than in police stations is attributed to the fact that under trials and accused in prisons outnumber those in police stations.
In the last 10 years, there were roughly 139 deaths in police custody and 1576 deaths in judicial custody annually, according to NHRC.
Data shows that despite 452 custodial deaths reported between 2014 and 2018, no police personnel was convicted.
“Deaths in custody are unfortunately not isolated incidents. Police in India routinely use torture and flout arrest procedures with little or no accountability,” noted Human Rights Watch.
In June this year, custodial deaths of P. Jayaraj, 60, and his son J. Bennix, 31, triggered calls for police reforms in India. Local state police in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu allegedly detained the father and son for keeping their mobile phone shop open in violation of Covid-19 lockdown rules. Their postmortem report found that they died of blunt beating. A Central Bureau of Investigation probe found that police tortured Jayaraj and Bennix for seven hours. Five policemen were arrested in the case.
Last year, a woman in the northeastern Indian state of Assam suffered a miscarriage as a result of police brutality.
The CCTV cameras, per the Supreme Court order, must have the option to store data at least for 18 months, and the person claiming violation of his or her human rights will have the right to get the recording secured.
Oversight committees at state and district level will monitor the installation and maintenance of cameras.
If the security camera of a police station is not functioning, the station house officer should bring it to the notice of the district legal oversight committee.
Court has directed all the states to share a timeline to comply with the order within six weeks.
In addition to existing human rights commissions at the centre and state levels, each district will set up human rights courts that will have the mandate to redress complaints of torture in police custody.