The number of FIRs registered against personnel is few and far between, show new data from NCRB

India may not have enough safeguards to protect its citizens from human rights violations by the police, official data suggest.

As many as 35,831 cases were registered against the police with the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) in 2015-16, a figure that experts say is highly under-reported. And only 94 first information reports were registered in 2015, recently released data by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) show.

Cases against the police involve illegal detentions, extortion, torture, fake encounters and others. The numbers do not include deaths in police custody, for which 153 cases were registered with the NHRC.

A big gap

2015 was not an exceptional year. NCRB data from 2006 to 2015 show that on an average, 120 FIRs are filed against the police for rights violations. From 2012 to 2015, cases with the NHRC against the police have always been more than 30,000, constituting around 30 per cent of all the cases it receives, data accessed by The Hindu show.

Explaining this alarmingly big gap, experts say there is unwillingness among the police to file an FIR against one of their own. In the absence of a body similar to the Independent Police Complaints Commission as in the United Kingdom or the Independent Police Investigative Directorate in South Africa, allegations of human rights violations by the police in India are investigated by the police themselves. The NHRC’s investigative unit draws its members from the State police forces who are on deputation. The unit does not have the powers for active investigation: that is to say, it cannot collect or preserve physical evidence itself but has to ask the local police for it.

“Wherever an offence has been made out after an inquiry, the NHRC, depending on the nature of the case, recommends lawful action, which may include punitive measures against the guilty and monetary relief to the victim,” NHRC spokesperson Jaimini Kumar Srivastava said.

Activists, however, wonder whether there is any follow-up after the NHRC recommends monetary relief. Handing out money, though vital for many complainants who have medical bills to pay, does not mean that justice has been served.

In fact, from April 2012 to July 2015, the NHRC recommended disciplinary action in just 22 cases and prosecution for a lone policeman, though monetary relief was recommended in 450 cases from April 2013 to March 2015. “The NHRC has complete authority to act against the police, but it chooses not to exercise its power,” lawyer and human rights activist Vrinda Grover said.

Devika Prasad, who is the coordinator of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative’s police reforms programme, said once the NHRC had recommended relief for a victim, the allegation was no longer mere conjecture. “If the harm caused has been quantified, that means the NHRC has made a finding; it’s then no longer in the realm of conjecture,” Ms. Prasad said. “Where is the deterrence within the system,” asks Ms. Grover, given that punitive action is rare and even the compensation amount comes from public money, putting no burden on the policeman in question. Convictions are few. In seven of the 10 years from 2006 to 2015, not a single policeman was convicted of human rights violations. Fifty-eight policemen (54 from Chhattisgarh) were convicted in 2009; 233 (232 from Delhi) in 2011; and four in 2014.