The article is written by Saurav Narayan, an intern at RTI cell, Team LawSikho.
Article 21 stipulates that a person’s life and liberty cannot be taken away except by following the due process of law. On the other hand, torture and violence have been a part of police operations, and it has sadly formed a stereotype of their profession. In many cases, this brutality leads to the accused’s death in custody, referred to as “custodial murder.” The credibility of the Rule of Law and the manner criminal justice is delivered has been seriously questioned due to prison violence.
Custodial crimes have attracted the public’s attention, the media, the legislature, the judiciary, and even the Human Rights Commission in recent years. Nonetheless, court action, significant media coverage, National Human Rights Commission activities, and Civil Society Intervention have demonstrated their concern for preventing torture and preserving human dignity.
India’s torture and impunity trends
- In India, a total of 1,731 individuals died in custody in 2019. This equates to about five such deaths per day. Reported ‘India: Annual Report on Torture 2019,’
- The report further states that 1,606 people died in judicial custody and 125 in police custody.
- Ninety-three people (74.4%) died in police custody because of suspected torture or foul play, while 24 people (19.2%) died under dubious circumstances, with the authorities citing suicide (16), illness (seven), and injuries as causes (one). The reasons for the deaths of five people (4%) in custody were unknown, according to the report.
- Torture of suspects in police custody to punish them, obtain information, or obtain confessions still is common practice.
- Hammering iron nails into the body, hitting private parts, and peeing in the mouth are examples of torture methods.
- The majority of those who were tortured by police were from the impoverished and marginalized sections of society, who are generally easy targets due to their socioeconomic situation.
- Police make every effort to erase incriminating evidence of torture by obstructing post-mortem tests or hastily cremating the torture victims’ remains without completing required post-mortem tests.
- In custody, women continued to be tortured or targeted for sexual violence, and the victims were frequently from the weaker sections of society.
- The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act of 2000 (JJ Act), as amended, is still ineffective. Due to a lack of execution of the JJ Act, children are frequently held and tortured illegally in police stations and prisons. According to the NCRB’s “Crime in India – 2018,” the police caused 3,164 cases of simple and serious harm to 3,467 minor victims.
- In India, overcrowding is still one of the most serious issues that inmates face. According to the NCRB’s report, “Prison Statistics India 2018,” there were 4,66,084 prisoners in the country’s 1,339 jails on December 31, 2018, compared to a total capacity of 3,96,223 prisoners, suggesting a 117.63 percent overcrowding.
- Despite the Law Commission of India submitting the draft Prevention of Torture Bill, 2017, for legislation by the parliament in October 2017, the Indian government has no plans to adopt a national law against torture.
Need for CCTV cameras in police stations
Last year’s deaths in custody of Jeyraj and Bennicks in Tamil Nadu highlighted the critical need for oversight measures in incidents of custodial brutality. The Supreme Court can add clarity to these orders by establishing explicit criteria for police accountability, victim rights, and judicial transparency.
Over the years, the People’s Union for Democratic Rights has intervened in Delhi thanas and jails, finding that victims cannot get legal redress for violations due to collusion between investigative authorities. According to the Law Commission of India, these bonds of “brotherhood and fellow feeling” assist to shield perpetrators from accountability and are best proven by the apex court verdict itself.
Supreme court on CCTV camera installation in police station
In July 2020, the Supreme Court, while hearing a case involving custodial torture, took note of a 2017 case in which it ordered the installation of CCTV cameras in all police stations to monitor human rights abuses, videography of crime scenes, and the establishment of a Central Oversight Committee and similar panels in all states and union territories.
According to the top Court, it had impleaded all states and UTs in the matter in September 2020 to determine the exact position of CCTV cameras in each police station as well as the formation of Oversight Committees in compliance with the 03.04.2018 order.
In Shahfi Mohammad v. State of Himachal Pradesh dated 03.04.2018, the Supreme Court ordered the installation of CCTV cameras in police stations to monitor human rights violations.
Court observation in Paramvir Singh Saini Versus Baljit Singh Case
In the case of Paramvir Singh Saini versus Baljit Singh & others dated 02.12.2020 the Supreme Court has ordered that CCTV cameras be installed in all police stations and central investigation agencies.
The Supreme Court has ordered states and union territories to “ensure that CCTV cameras are installed in each and every Police Station functioning” within their jurisdictions and to keep the recordings for at least a year.
In its order, a bench of Justices R F Nariman, KM Joseph, and Aniruddha Bose further ordered the Centre to “install CCTV cameras and recording equipment in the offices of” the CBI, NIA, ED, NCB, DRI, SFIO, and “any other agency which carries interrogations and has the power of arrest.”
The Supreme Court has issued orders instituting “Oversight Committees” at the State (State Level Oversight Committee) and district (District Level Oversight Committee) levels to facilitate the ongoing installation and maintenance of CCTVs in police stations across all UTs and States, as well as directing all UTs and States’ Finance Departments to allocate funds for it.
The State Level Oversight Committee must include:
- The Secretary/Additional Secretary, Home Department;
- Secretary/Additional Secretary, Finance Department;
- The Director-General/Inspector General of Police; and
- The Chairperson/member of the State Women’s Commission.
The District Level Oversight Committee should include:
- The Divisional Commissioner/ Commissioner of Divisions/ Regional Commissioner/ Revenue Commissioner Division of the District (by whatever name called).
- The District Magistrate of the District; and
- The District’s Superintendent of Police; and
- The mayor of one of the district’s municipalities.
The Ministry of Home Affairs established the Central Oversight Committee to oversee the use of photography and videography at crime scenes by the State and Union Territory and other central agencies, to recommend the establishment of a central server for videography implementation, and to issue appropriate directives to ensure that videography is used properly.
On July 16, 2020, the Court issued an additional notice to the MHA on the problem of audio-video recordings of Section 161 CrPC statements as permitted by Section 161 (3) proviso and the more significant problem of CCTV camera installation in police stations in general.
The Supreme Court has passed the slew of directions:
- The Director-General/Inspector General of Police of each State and Union Territory should issue instructions to the person in charge of a Police Station to entrust the SHO of the concerned Police Station with the responsibility of assessing the working condition of the CCTV cameras installed in the police station, as well as taking corrective action to restore the functionality of all non-functional CCTV cameras. The SHO should also be responsible for CCTV data upkeep, data backup, and problem correction, among other things.
- The state and union territory governments should ensure that CCTV cameras are installed in every police station in their jurisdiction. Furthermore, CCTV cameras must be installed at all entry and exit points, the main gate of the police station, all lock-ups, all corridors, the lobby/reception area, all verandas/outhouses, Inspector’s room, Sub Inspector’s room, areas outside the lock-up room and the station hall to ensure that no part of the police station is left uncovered.
- The CCTV systems that must be installed must be equipped with night vision and must include both audio and video recording. It shall be the responsibility of the States/Union Territories to provide electricity and/or internet as quickly as feasible in places where neither exists, utilizing any mode of electricity generation, including solar/wind power. If the recording equipment currently available on the market does not have the capacity to keep the recording for 18 months but only for a shorter period, it will be mandatory for all States, Union Territories, and the Central Government to purchase one that allows storage for the maximum period possible, but not less than one year. It is also said that all states will review this in order to obtain data storage equipment capable of storing data for 18 months as soon as it becomes commercially accessible.
- When police brutality is being used at police stations, resulting in significant injury and/or death in custody, people must have the right to complain and have their complaints heard.
Court compliance order
On March 2, 2021, the Apex Court, in its order, reiterated that CCTV cameras’ installation at the police stations is a matter of utmost importance concerning the citizens of this country under Article 21 of the Constitution of India.
The Bench was disappointed that no state had provided a firm action plan in response to the December 2, 2020, judgment on CCTV installation. “Our orders should have been followed in letter and spirit,” Bench said.
According to the Bench, the states have been given a month to allocate funds, followed by a four-month deadline to install the cameras. The states have five months to comply with the directive. Assam, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, and Kerala, which have pending elections, have been given more time.
For its extensive territory and a large number of police stations, the state of Uttar Pradesh has been given a nine-month deadline to comply with the Court’s instructions (one month for budget allocation and the remaining eight months for execution). Madhya Pradesh has been similarly allocated for seven months.
The Supreme Court has ordered the Union of India to file an affidavit within three weeks from 02.03.2021, stating precisely how much financial outlay is required and the timeline within which they will carry out the orders contained in the second sentence, in particular, of paragraph 19 of the 02.12.2020 Order which states the Union of India is also directed to install CCTV cameras and recording equipment in the offices of Central Oversight Body (COB).
There has been a pattern of non-compliance with Supreme Court instructions, which were first issued in 2015 in the DK Basu case and then again in 2018 in Shahfi Mohammad v. State of Himachal Pradesh.
The installation of CCTV cameras is simply one step in addressing the systemic impunity enjoyed by criminals, given the close bonds of brotherhood among the cops. Case after case demonstrates police officers’ adamant opposition to providing victims access to documents, as well as a consistent effort to shield their comrades from any investigation or prosecutorial action.
Justice G.R. Swaminathan of Madras High Court observed in Santhosh v. District Collector, Madurai District, “What the government does must inspire the confidence of the people. Every time a custodial death occurs, the legitimacy of the State suffers a big dent.”
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