THE NATIONAL Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has issued showcause notice to Gujarat chief secretary into a suspected case of custodial torture at Ahmedabad’s Sabarmati Central Jail in 2017 after a magisterial enquiry gave a clean chit in the matter.
In a show-cause notice, issued to state chief secretary Anil Mukim on January 5, the NHRC sought an explanation why the victim’s next of kin not be paid an interim compensation of Rs 3 lakh under provisions of the Protection of Human Rights Act, as his rights were violated by “delinquent jail officials”. The commission has sought a response to the notice by February 12.
On May 31, 2017, the Ahmedabad Central Prison superintendent informed the NHRC about the death of an undertrial prisoner, Ashok alias Lalit (40), on May 29 two days after he was arrested by the Meghaninagar police station under the provisions of the Prohibition Act. Ashok, who had “taken ill” was sent to the Ahmedabad Civil Hospital for treatment on May 29, 2017, where he died the same day.
The NHRC had then noted that the post-mortem, conducted by a panel of four doctors, had revealed 22 ante-mortem injuries from head to toe, while a subsequent viscera study revealed that the death was caused “due to shock and haemorrhage as a result of injuries sustained over the body”.
A magisterial enquiry, instituted in 2019 and conducted by additional chief metropolitan magistrate in Ahmedabad, however, had found that the health screening report as well as inquest report revealed “no injury was present on the person of the deceased”.
A magisterial court, in its report dated October 11,2019, also noted that the deceased’s family members did not complain of any anomaly. Relying on the statements of doctors and jail officials, the magistrate court had then concluded that “there is no direct or indirect evidence that the deceased was physically or mentally tortured or ill-treated during custody” and in the absence of any evidence “it is not permissible to say that death of deceased was ‘unnatural’”.
During its proceedings on January 5 this year, the NHRC, however, pointed out that an analysis of records made “it is clear that the cause of death is shock and haemorrhage due to injuries (22 injuries on all parts of the body) sustained over the body”.
“The person was normal at the time of entry into the jail and died within two days (thereafter)… Though the enquiry magistrate has not found any evidence on record, he has only based his enquiry on the statements of the jail doctors, and jail officials, who have denied any torture. Family has shown indifference and not complained of anything, but the autopsy doctors, in their statements, have affirmed that there were injuries on the body of the deceased and the cause of death was shock and haemorrhage due to injuries sustained over the body. This is very strong scientific and biological forensic evidence which cannot be undermined as far as the cause of death is concerned,” the commission adjudged.
Highlighting that Ashok was in jail for the two days before his death in the hospital, the NHRC stated: “…there is no point in accepting that his death was natural. This is a clear case of unnatural death in the judicial custody of Sabarmati Central Jail and hence the state is vicariously responsible for the same”.
The commission directed the Gujarat Director General of Police (DGP) “to submit a detailed report in the matter along with criminal case registered along with action taken in the same”, within four weeks.
The NHRC also sought the registrar (law) of Gujarat Hight Court to send a copy of the proceedings with the magisterial enquiry report to the Chief Justice of Gujarat HC “for information and further necessary action”.
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