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Custodial Torture : Urgent Need For Supreme Court To Ensure CCTV Installation In Police Stations

Manu Sebastian
14 Nov 2021 6:41 AM GMT
Custodial Torture : Urgent Need For Supreme Court To Ensure CCTV Installation In Police Stations
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The hugely successful Tamil movie "Jai Bhim" has brought much needed public attention to the troubling topic of police brutality. While the social media was abuzz with the discussions on the topic of police violence, an unfortunate news about the custodial death of a youth named Altaf in Kasganj police station in Uttar Pradesh emerged. The family of Altaf have raised doubts about the...

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The hugely successful Tamil movie "Jai Bhim" has brought much needed public attention to the troubling topic of police brutality. While the social media was abuzz with the discussions on the topic of police violence, an unfortunate news about the custodial death of a youth named Altaf in Kasganj police station in Uttar Pradesh emerged. The family of Altaf have raised doubts about the police version that Altaf was found dead in the washroom with a string tied around his neck and hung from a water-pipe and have demanded a CBI probe.

Apart from the cases of custodial deaths which make news often, there are instances of torture and inhuman treatment by police, many of them going unreported. Recently, the Kerala High Court came down heavily on police officers for handcuffing and chaining a man to the handrail of the police station for merely seeking a receipt of a complaint he had filed earlier.

"Unfortunately, some officers still do not appear to understand their constitutional obligations while dealing with the citizenry", a bench of Justice Devan Ramachandran noted in the order.

Justice K Chandru, former judge of the Madras High Court, the inspiration behind the "Jai Bhim" movie for a real life case of custodial death handled by him as a lawyer, told to this author in an interview "The reason for the indiscipline of the police force is inherent in its own colonial origin..The organized violence unleashed by the uniformed forces has a definite pattern and it was to subjugate the already marginalized".

Supreme Court's direction to install CCTVs in police stations

In this backdrop of repeated concerns being raised from different quarters about unabated police violence in India, it is worthwhile to recall a landmark judgment delivered by the Supreme Court in the case Paramvir Singh Saini versus Baljit Singh on December 2, 2020. In that case, a bench comprising Justices RF Nariman, KM Joseph and Aniruddha Bose issued a slew of directions to all States and Union Territories to install CCTV cameras in all police stations. The Court was not just issuing a general order. It took care to go into the specifics and made it amply clear that no part of the police station, except the inside of washrooms, should be left uncovered by the CCTV. The order made it clear that the CCTVs must be equipped with night vision and audio/video footage recording facilities.  The Court also issued directions for the recording of the CCTV footages and their preservation, for a minimum of 6 months.

Further, the Court made the above directions applicable to the offices of central agencies like CBI, NIA, ED, NCB, DRI and SFIO as well, observing they also carry out arrests and interrogations.

Significantly, the Court declared in the judgment that the victims of human rights violations by state police or central agencies will have a right to seek the copy of the CCTV footage of their interrogation.

The Court directed the Centre and the States to make necessary budgetary allocations for the purchase of CCTVs and install them in the police stations in a time-bound manner.

Supreme Court takes up the case again to ascertain compliance

On March 4, when the Court took up the matter again to ascertain compliance, it was extremely upset with the lack of enthusiasm shown by the Centre and the States in following the directions.

"We are getting a distinct impression that you are dragging your feet. This concerns the rights of the citizens. This concerns the rights of citizenry under Article 21 of the Constitution", Justice Nariman told the Solicitor General of India, when the latter sought for time to submit details about the budgetary allocation for CCTV installation in the offices of central agencies.

"We direct the Union to file an affidavit within 3 seeks stating exactly how much financial outlay is required and the time line within which they are going to carry out the directions...", the bench led by Justice Nariman ordered.

Next, coming to the States, the bench was not happy with the fact that the States have not given a "firm action plan" for the completion of CCTV installation in police stations.

 "Our orders should have been followed in letter and spirit", an anguished bench observed.

Analyzing the status state by state, the bench granted time in the range of 4 months to 9 months, depending on the vastness of area, within which they have to complete the budgetary allocation and installation of CCTVS. Certain states like West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Assam and Puducherry (UT) were going into assembly polls, and that factor was taken note of the bench while giving them extra-time.  Be that as it may, the maximum time given was 9 months for the implementation of the directions.

"We reiterate that these are the matters of utmost importance concerning the citizens of this country under Article 21of the Constitution of India", the bench recorded in the order.

On the next hearing date, April 6, the bench examined the affidavit filed by the Union Government. Taking note of the budgetary allocation made, the bench directed that the allocation of amounts be made within one month and the directions be implemented in letter and spirit within six months from the date of budgetary allocation.

The matter was directed to be listed next on October 20.

Meanwhile, Justice Nariman retired on August 12. After the retirement of Justice Nariman, the case has not got a posting (though there was a direction for listing on October 20).

There is no doubt that these directions are path-breaking, and installation of CCTVs will go a long way in enhancing the sense of safety and security an ordinary citizen will feel in police stations. This measure will certainly make police officers more accountable and act as a check on custodial torture.

Therefore, there is an urgent need for the Supreme Court to take up this important case again to monitor the implementation of the directions by Centre and States.

(Manu Sebastian is the Managing Editor of LiveLaw. He may be contacted at [email protected] He tweets @manuvichar)


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