By Ev Richard On May 9, 2022
Amid furore over the custodial death in Chennai emerged another similar incident – this time from Mayurbhanj district of Odisha, where a youth suspected of jewellery theft died in police custody. Such horrible tales keep pouring in from different corners of the country almost every other day, even as the death of a businessman during a ‘police raid’ in UP’s Gorakhpur and those of father-son duo Jeyaraj and Bennicks in Tamil Nadu’s Thoothukudi are still fresh in public memory.
Tamil Nadu recorded 34 police custody deaths from 2017-20, one of the highest in the country. Gujarat (39), Maharashtra (33) and Madhya Pradesh (33) were the other states with maximum police custody deaths in the same period, as per NHRC data.
One of the major arguments for police reforms is the high number of custodial deaths in India. Recently, the Union Home ministry informed the Lok Sabha that the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) recorded a whopping 2,152 deaths in judicial custody and 155 deaths in police custody in 2021-22 (till February 28). This translates to more than six custodial deaths in India every day!
UP accounted for the highest deaths in judicial custody (448) in 2021-22, while Maharashtra reported the highest deaths in police custody (29). In 2019, approximately five people died in custody every day, according to a report by New Delhi-based activist group National Campaign Against Torture.
As per NHRC data shared by the Union Home ministry, there were 1,840 judicial custody deaths in India in 2020-21; 1,584 in 2019-20; 1,797 in 2018-19; 1,636 in 2017-18 and 1,616 in 2016-17. Police custody deaths stood at 100 in 2020-21, 112 in 2019-20, 136 in 2018-19, 146 in 2017-18 and 145 in 2016-17.
Custody deaths have seen very few arrests and fewer convictions. And the role of NHRC has been equally disappointing. Of the total 11,419 custodial death cases from 2016-22, the rights body recommended compensation in only 1,184 cases, disciplinary action in a mere 21 cases (0.18 per cent), and prosecution in zero cases! From 2016-22, UP recorded the highest number of judicial custody deaths at 2,528. Maharashtra had the highest number of police custody deaths in the same period at 100.
In 2020, a Public Interest Litigation was filed seeking mandatory judicial inquiries into custodial deaths. The PIL pointed to a report by the National Crime Records Bureau which said that from 2005-17, out of 827 cases of death or disappearance from police custody, judicial inquiries were ordered in only 20 per cent of them.
The Supreme Court has also mandated that all police stations and investigation agencies must have CCTV cameras installed. But such orders are hardly followed.
As per reports, in the last two decades, 1,888 deaths in police custody have been reported across India. While 893 cases were registered against police personnel, only 358 policemen were formally accused, and a mere 26 policemen convicted.
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