Author: Shivanshu Tripathi and Janhavi Singh
Designation: Student, National Law University Odisha, Cuttack and,
National Law Institute University, Bhopal
Contact: +91-811*******; 700******
A solicitous cry for bringing about stringent guidelines to curb custodial torture emerged in India after the gruesome killings of a father-son duo in Tamil Nadu in June, 2020. While the history of custodial deaths has been alarming in India, records show that in 2019 itself, 117 deaths in police remand were reported and between 2005 to 2018, 500 similar cases were taken into account. However, no substantial steps have been taken to resolve these issues.
Ushering an incredible new era, an observation made by the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India on 02/12/20 comes as a positive step towards keeping a check on custodial torture and efficiently tackle human rights issues related to prisoners. A bench headed by Justice RF Rohinton said that the states and union territories in India have to oversee that all functioning police stations should be equipped with CCTV cameras and recording equipment. The concerned order is also applicable on NIA, ED, CBI and other state and central investigating agencies. The judgment aims to ensure that a vigilant eye is kept on lockups and the treatment of suspects held up in custody while they are in the premises of police stations. This installation of cameras in prison cells will enable the court to check the authenticity of claims made by the officers in case of custodial deaths. Furthermore, it will also discourage investigative officers from using unrestricted and unwarranted methods of torture and will thus, uphold one’s fundamental right to life as guaranteed under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.
It is not the first time that the Supreme Court has recognised the rights of the people held in custody. The apex court’s first significant tryst with custodial violence was in 1987 in the case of DK Basu v. State of West Bengal. The court, in this judgement, laid out 11 commandments that were to be followed by all police personnel carrying out arrest or detention of an individual. With the recent judgement given by the Supreme Court in Paramvir Singh Saini v. Baljit Singh & Ors. and with various other judgements over the years, the number of commandments has increased to 21. The 21st commandment being the installation of CCTV cameras with night visions and audio recordings at all the police stations or investigation stations to ensure the accountability of such stations during custodial violence or other offences.
The Supreme Court, while directing the Centre and States for the CCTV installations, expanded the ruling of Shafi Mohammad v. The State of Himachal Pradesh, which directed that a Central Oversight Body will have to be set up by the Ministry of Home Affairs to implement the plan of action for the use of videography in the crime scene during the investigation.
Until the Paramvir Singh Saini’s case, the guidelines issued by the legislatures and the Supreme Court were majorly procedural and thus were followed only when the violence or the acts were already committed. However, the installations of CCTV cameras will ensure that the treatment of people arrested or held up for investigations is met by the standards of the National Human Rights Commission. The commission stresses the need for a compassionate and considerate approach towards detainees and also promotes the use of forensic science and techniques.
As mentioned in a report published by the National Campaign against torture (NCAT), the customary practice as demonstrated by investigative officers’ ranges from slapping and kicking to urinating in the mouth of prisoners. It has also been noted that in several cases involving accusation of petty crimes like pickpocketing, instead of a proper interrogation, the police went on to use electric shocks, hammered iron nails on the body of the accused and performed sexual acts on them.
Moreover, it is also evident that a large part of those who were tortured belonged to a relegated section of the socio-economic ladder of India. This signifies that the investigative authorities give out an impression to the community that there is an absolute impunity in the way they function inside a prison cell. Thus, an urgent need to curb such unchecked power is indispensable. Consequently, India’s apex court’s order that mandates the installation of CCTV cameras will be distinctly instrumental to drive endeavour in the positive direction.
Custodial deaths spark national ire, no FIR yet, The Times of India (Jun 27, 2020), Jeyaraj and Fenix deaths: Custodial deaths of Jeyaraj and Fenix spark national ire, no FIR on Tamil Nadu cops | Chennai News - Times of India (indiatimes.com)
Police not trained enough in human rights, reveal surveys, Hindustan Times (Jun 30, 2020), https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/police-not-trained-enough-in-human-rights-reveal-surveys/story-Cbr9cc4oOYlCZGR48aaQWO.html.
Satya Prakash, SC orders installation of CCTV cameras in all police stations across India, The Tribune India (Dec 02, 2020), SC orders installation of CCTV cameras in all police stations across India: The Tribune India
DK Basu v. State of West Bengal, (1997) 1 SCC 416
Paramvir Singh Saini v. Baljit Singh & Ors., Criminal Appeal No. 3543 of 2020
Shafi Mohammad v. The State of Himachal Pradesh, (2018) 2 SCC 801
National Campaign Against Torture, India: Annual report on Torture 2019, 23 (2020)