In a recent judgment, the bench led by Justice Nariman issued directions to both the state and Union Territory governments to install CCTV cameras in every functioning police station. The apex court while hearing a related to custodial torture, issued this direction to uphold the human rights of all individuals.
Rise of Custodial Death & Torture
The issue of custodial death and torture is not a new challenge in India. But in recent times, the registration of custodial death cases are increasing, due to which this issue seems to be a recent challenge for many. Custodial death is one of the worst crimes in a civilized society, that too in a democratic state. Universally, it is held as one of the cruellest forms of human rights abuse. Even though the constitution of India protects the rights and liberties of its citizens and also restricts unlawful arrest and detention. Due to the present power and authority, some police officers are destroying the lives of many. Not all officials violate the law, but some uncivilized personnel abuse their power to torture, someone.
A recent report by a rights body against custodial torture across the world reveals a disturbing scenario in India. As per reports, 1,731 people died in custody in 2019, where most of them belonging to vulnerable communities such as Dalit and Muslim. In this total of 1,731, 125 people died in police custody, and the rest in judicial custody. The issue of brutality and custodial death is not only India’s challenge, it is a global concern. The recent death of George Floyd at the hands of the police in the US has created a huge impact on the lives of minorities and their rights.
Even though people give their support against tortures and brutality, the judicial proceedings and inquiries against the person responsible are still in a grey area. The crimes in India reports also do not specify how the cause of death was ascribed and even though if any order was pronounced to conduct enquiries, whether it was followed is also a question. Until the year 2005, Section- 176 of the Code of Criminal Procedure required an executive magistrate to conduct an inquiry when any unnatural death had happened in custody. But after the amendment to the said section, it was mandated to make a judicial or metropolitan magistrate inquiry in addition to a police inquiry. But still, when it comes to implementation, it lags due to many reasons.
The death of the duo (Father and Son) in Tamil Nadu has sparked anger across India and caused people to raise their voices against custodial deaths. The issue of custodial deaths in India is still an uncontrolled one. Even though the number of deaths has been rising, the number of reporting cases is still low. This is not because of inadequate knowledge about their rights and law, but due to fear of life. The voices of victims and their families are suppressed by many evil-minded persons who possess authority and power.
Shafi Mohammed v. State of Himachal Pradesh
The court observed that videography is crucial and credible evidence. It is admissible in court as evidence. The court issued directions to the government to install CCTV cameras to capture videos of the investigation, particularly for crime scenes. It is also directed to introduce the first phase of implementation of crime scene videography by 15th July 2018.
CCTV in All Police Stations, CBI, NIA, NCB, ED
As the number of custodial deaths is increasing nowadays. The Honourable Supreme Court directed all state and UT governments to install CCTV cameras in all police stations. Besides, it is also directed to install CCTV cameras and recording equipment in the offices of central agencies such as CBI, ED, NCB, NIA, etc…
The court pointed out specific places where CCTV cameras be installed such as all entry and exit points, the main gate of the police station, all lock-ups, all corridors, lobby, all verandas, inspector and sub-inspectors room, areas outside the lock-up room, back part of the police station, etc…Literally, except the washroom, all other places in police stations must be under surveillance.
All CCTV cameras must be equipped with night mode and must necessarily consist of audio and video. Where such footage must be stored for 18 months, the SHO of the police station is responsible for the same. In case, if any police station is situated in a place where no internet or electricity exists, the state or UT must provide adequate equipment and the necessity for proper installation and storage said the top court.
State & District Level Oversight Committee
The apex court ordered the establishment of an oversight committee at state and district levels. The role of this committee is to administer surveillance and solve issues related to the same. The DG/ IG of each state and Union Territory were directed to issue guidelines to the person in charge of the police station to entrust the SHO. SHO has a role in monitoring the camera footage and has the responsibility to check the working condition of the CCTV cameras. SHO is also responsible for data maintenance, backup of data, fault rectification, etc… The court was directed to establish Human Rights courts in each district. Under Section- 30 of the Protection of Human Rights Act, the said court would be established. Cases related to misuse of power, police brutality, custodial death, and other related abuses will be heard in this court. All persons have the right to approach the state Human Rights Commission and Human Rights court when any force is exerted by police while in custody.
Measures such as the said directions and establishment of courts won’t alone stop this serious offense. Proper soft skills and importance of the authority and duties must be taught to those officers who misuse their power. As said earlier, some courts have jurisdiction to take cases related to custodial death and tortures, but when it comes to reality, the case is different. Many cases are unheard and even if any judicial proceedings were prosecuted, the conviction percentage is very low.
Over the past decade, 1,004 deaths were reported due to custodial death. Wherein 297 judicial inquiries were ordered, as were 402 inquiries by an executive magistrate. It is still unclear whether each inquiry pertained to a single death, and whether some of these inquiries were into the same deaths.
This clearly shows the lack of accountability in the system when it comes to custodial deaths.
To stop the misuse of power by police and to protect the human rights of individuals. The apex court directed all governments of the state and UT to install CCTV cameras at all police stations and offices of central agencies. The court also directed the centre to file an affidavit on the constitution and workings of the central oversight body.
The only solution to this issue of custodial death and police brutality is to make investigation transparent and make concerned authorities accountable. As the number of conviction and judicial proceedings against persons responsible for custodial death are low, makes other unethical officials misuse their power. So, implementation of law must be done in the first place and that must be stringent law.
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