The Bombay High Court on Tuesday came down heavily on the state government for its failure to curb custodial deaths and remarked that the government seems to be a consensual party to such incidents as it has failed to take any steps to reduce them.
A division bench of justices VM Kanade and Dr Shalini Phansalkar-Joshi was hearing a bunch of petitions, including a public interest litigation, on the increasing number of custodial death cases. “When we heard the matter for the first time we said the government should take steps to put an end to this. But it is still happening. In fact, incidents of custodial deaths have increased. What can the judiciary do when the executive is so insensitive,” the bench observed.
On the last hearing of the petitions the court had observed, “We hope that now the state will wake up and take appropriate action at the senior level to prevent custodial deaths, after it was informed that from 1999 to 2014, a total of 243 custodial deaths have taken place in Maharashtra but there has not been a single conviction.The bench expressed displeasure on the state government’s failure to comply with its earlier order passed in January this year directing it to initiate steps to install CCTVs in all police stations.
It said: “Despite such deaths, the entire machinery is insensitive and turning a blind eye as though it is not happening. The state seems to be a consensual party. We are appalled by the government’s insensitivity and lack of political will to address this problem. The government does not seem to be bothered and are silent towards this menace of custodial deaths.”
The court has now sought suggestions from petitioners’ advocates Yug Choudhary and Mihir Desai on how to tackle the issue and posted the petitions for hearing on October 21.While hearing a petition filed by one Agnelo Valdaris whose son Leonard allegedly died while in custody of the Wadala railway police station in 2014 and the probe is being done by the Central Bureau of Investigations, the court asked the premier agency to give details about whether it suffers from shortage of staff.
CBI counsel Rebecca Gonsalves informed the court that there are only nine officers in the special crime branch for entire western region.The court said: “The CBI in every case says it is overburdened. What was the strength of CBI in 1963 when it was set up and what is the strength now? Has the CBI (Western region) ever made a demand to the Centre for more personnel and better infrastructure? If such a demand was made was it considered? We would like to know this.”