A High Court-appointed panel probing the November 21, 2017, violence against inmates at Tihar’s jail number 1 received contradictory versions from jail authorities on why CCTV footage from the day of the incident was unavailable.
A preliminary enquiry committee, in its report submitted on November 27, had said that the incident was a “gross violation of fundamental human rights” of prisoners. This prompted the HC to constitute a fact-finding committee comprising district and sessions judge (Dwarka) Brijesh Sethi, National Law University professor Dr Mrinal Satish and advocate Sumeet Verma. The committee’s report, submitted on February 7, recommended an FIR against TSP personnel accused of the assault.
According to the report, the incident took place around 8.30 pm, when TSP personnel were conducting search and seizure of pillows covers. The committee said inmate Ahtisham told them that he, along with inmate Mohd Hakim, had spoken to sub-inspector Mutthu Pandi of the TSP, showing a handwritten permission given by a doctor to Hakim to keep the pillow covers. Pandi was leading the search.
An argument ensued, with Pandi telling the committee that he was “slapped” by Ahtisham and pushed by Hakim. However, the committee, which also interviewed various inmates, noted that “no one physically assaulted”. Pandi, and that there had been an “exchange” of abuses.
The committee then sought CCTV footage from the block C courtyard. “Viewing the said recording would be significant since Pandi took the stand that he was slapped,” it noted.
The committee noted that when it asked for CCTV footage, it was told by the superintendent of jail number 1 that the cameras’ recording feature had not been operational for the last six months. However, a constable later told the committee that the DVR had “failed to record data from November 19-22, 2017”.
“The contradictory versions prima facie give rise to an opinion that perhaps the officials of jail number 1 wanted to withhold the recording. This is purely for the reason that a new version of events had been introduced by Pandi…,” it noted.
“One of the inmates appears to have snatched his pillow cover from the hands of the SI… this possibly led Pandi to blow the whistle and one of the men to sound the alarm… the TSP entered and mercilessly beat the defenceless inmates. The CCTV footage clearly shows how inmate Ahtisham, who had fallen on the floor and appeared to be unconscious, was beaten with lathis, buckets and even kicked by TSP personnel. Many of the inmates were brutally beaten,” it noted.
It also shot down the TSP’s contention that they were outnumbered: “The claim of outnumbering is bizarre, since there were nearly 70 TSP personnel, including QRT, and 25 inmates.”