Author: Smriti Jha, Student at National University Of Study And Research In Law, Ranchi.
Custody in simpler terms means that a suspect may be kept safe by the police authorities, in prison while waiting for his/ her trial in the stipulated court to continue. Yet, we witness time and on the flagrant violation of the personal rights of the suspects while in custody. They are more often being tortured believing them to be convicts or to extract information to frame evidences and in the end, many succumb to their injuries. Many of them are locked up in ugly unhealthy situations and owing which many get sick and fall prey to fatal diseases later. As per the latest set of data released from National Human Rights Commission (NHRC)1 in March 2020, almost 17,146 people, nearly 5 deaths in a day, have lost their lives under judicial/ police custody in the preceding decade. It raises a pertinent question in our mind whether our prized Fundamental Rights of Life and Liberty are so vulnerable to be squeezed to its bottom at the time of detention of its Denizens? Custodial torture and deaths are definitely a black denomination over the journey of a civilized society.
The recent custodial death of a father (P. Jeyaraj) son (Fenix) duo in Sathankulam, Tamil Nadu has again placed this issue before national discourse. Although much has been done by our Constitution, the Supreme Court, High Courts, NHRC and other institutions concerned, but the intent of its implementation appear to be missing. The Police and state authorities keep on defying such ordeals time and again. So, to restrict this menace from its implementation side, a remarkable judicial intervention has been made by the Supreme Court ordering installation of CCTV cameras and video recording equipment at all the police stations in the country, by issuing an exhaustive set of guidelines in this regard while responding to a special leave petition in Paramvir Singh Saini vs. Baljit Singh and Others case2. An attempt has been made to explore the efficacy of this judicial pronouncement with regard to the frequent custodial incidents in India after exploring a review of previous judicial decisions made in this regard.
PRECEDING JUDICIAL INTERVENTIONS ON CUSTODIAL HUMAN RIGHT VIOLATIONS/ ABUSES
In D. K. Basu vs State of West Bengal (1997)3, the Supreme Court issued a list of 10 guidelines in addition to safeguarding the constitutional Rights to be followed in the cases of arrests and detention and ensured that all such custodial interrogations are duly recorded.
Bombay High Court in Leonard Xavier Valdaris v. Officer in Charge (2014) case4 issued orders to the State Government to install and maintain rotating CCTV camera in every part of the police station and directed the footages to be preserved for a minimum of one year to ensure monitoring. Bombay High Court had taken the cue from the Report of Amnesty International on Spain in 2010 which had noted that the cases of custodial crimes were reduced by almost 40 percent in all the police stations of Spain where CCTV cameras were properly installed and were operational.
In Shafhi Mohammad v. State of Himachal Pradesh5 (2018) case, Supreme Court directed the Ministry of Home Affairs to set up a Central oversight body (COB) to implement the plan of action with respect to the use of videography in crime investigations and said that it was time to upgrade the directives issued in the D.K.Basu v. State of West Bengal case. It also directed that an independent body ought to be created in every State to study the CCTV footage and periodically publish its observations.
SUPREME COURT AND ITS LEGAL PRONOUNCEMENT TO ENSURE THE EFFECTIVE COMPLIANCE AGAINST CASES OF HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS ON THE GROUND
While responding to a special leave petition (SLP) in Paramvir Singh Saini v. Baljit Singh and Others (2020), the Supreme Court felt that its orders in Shafhi Mohammad v. State of Himachal Pradesh case were not adhered in letter and spirit. Not satisfied with the affidavits submitted by the Ministry of Home Affairs and the states against the notice served against this SLP, the Supreme Court issued a 20 point charter of guidelines that explained in detail the importance of installing CCTV cameras in all Police Stations to prevent the custodial abuses. It directed for the followings-
- State Level Oversight Committee (SLOC) must consist of top officers from the Home and Finance Departments, besides the Chairperson or a member of the State Women’s Commission.
- District Level Oversight Committee (DLOC) should consist of District Magistrate, SP and Heads of the Zila Panchayats.
- SLOC should carry out the instructions of SC in these matters besides facilitating the purchase, distribution, installation, monitoring and maintenance of CCTV equipment.
- The Station House Officer should be responsible for CCTV data maintenance and back up of data and immediately report for any malfunctioning to DLOC.
- DLOC is to maintain and monitor CCTVs in their localities and shall send monthly report to SLOC.
- DLOC must review the CCTV footage of their Police Stations to check any custodial abuses.
- It said that it was imperative to ensure that CCTV cameras are installed at all entry and exit points, main gate, all lock ups, all corridors, Sub Inspector’s Room, areas outside the lock up room, Station Hall, frontage of the Police Station Compound, washrooms, Duty Officer’s Room, back part of the Police Station etc.
- CCTV systems must be equipped with night vision facility with audio and video footage.
- In areas without electricity, alternative sources of power should be provided.
- The recording system of CCTV cameras must store these recordings not below one year of time.
- The investigating agencies in cases of any reported custodial abuses can immediately summon for the respective CCTV footages related to the site of incident.
- Union Government should file an affidavit regarding the working of COB and directed the Government to install CCTV cameras and recording equipments in the offices of CBI, National Investigation Agency, Enforcement Directorate, Department of Revenue Intelligence and other such agencies.
- The SLOC and COB must give directions to all police stations and investigating agencies to prominently display about the CCTV coverage of the premises.
- The Court said that since these directions are in furtherance of the Fundamental Rights of each citizen of India and since nothing substantial has been done after Shafi Mohammad Case (2018), the Executive/ Administrative/ Police authorities are to implement this order both in letter and spirit as soon as possible.
The purpose of all such judicial interventions are to hold accountability in the custodial situation and to ensure instant relief in case of any such abuse. Neither of this purpose is served unless a constant vigil and review is maintained over the functioning of police and other state agencies there in the ground. In the light of this, this order of Supreme Court must be termed as the landmark judgement, as this would definitely ensure, monitor and deter the functioning of law enforcement agencies, there on the ground. These exhaustive guidelines will have far reaching implications for the general functioning of law enforcement agencies by making them accountable for custodial crimes during the investigation and will go on to benefiting the of custodial violence across the country. Custodial deaths and torture in police stations across the country have registered a very sharp increase. It is heartening to see that the Supreme Court has intervened with his exhaustive set of guidelines both for the States and the Union Government of India.
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