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Custodial deaths: Bombay High Court finds CBI manpower, infrastructure insufficient

Court says lack of political will to address custodial deaths in state.

Written by Aamir Khan | Mumbai | Published: October 14, 2015 1:27:32 am

The Bombay High Court, which had inquired about the strength of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), was Tuesday informed that there were merely nine officers working with the crime branch of its Mumbai unit. Since its inception in 1963, the HC observed, nothing had been done to add more officers or improve infrastructure and machinery.

The investigating agency had sought more time to file a chargesheet in a case of alleged custodial death in which police officers might be indicted. Given the nature of the probe, the CBI counsel said the agency would require the sanction of the state government.

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“In November last year, you made a similar submission. More than a year has passed and there is yet no chargesheet filed,” said Justice V M Kanade of a bench that also comprised Justice Shalini Phansalkar Joshi.

The court said such cases had shown involvement of high-ranking police officers and government servants. Therefore, the court observed, it was essential for an agency like the CBI to investigate. The court also pointed out “complete lack of political will” to address the issue of custodial deaths in state prisons.

The court had on August 13, 2014, directed the state government to immediately install CCTV and rotating cameras in “all rooms of all police stations” for 24 hours. It was asked to file a compliance report within four weeks. They said sheer “apathy” and “disobedience” was responsible for callousness that led to increasing number of such cases.

Leonard Valdaris, whose son Agnelo was allegedly killed in custody of the Wadala Railway Police in April last year, is the petitioner in the case. Agnelo and three others, including a minor, were also allegedly sexually abused in the lock-up. The court had asked for the case to be transferred to the CBI. The court is also hearing petitions by families of all those who have allegedly been killed in custody and had sought an independent probe, besides action against police officers. Custodial torture and deaths, Justice Kanade said, violated Article 21 (Right to Life).

Commenting on inept handling of the situation, the court said, “There are increasing number of custodial deaths.” They said the police were behind it and those investigating were “their own people” and “there is not a single conviction in such cases till now.” “Not a single conviction in such cases,” said Justice Kanade and observed, “human life is so cheap.”

The judges pointed out a recent case where it was reported that a woman had committed suicide in police custody, “How can a woman die in police custody,” the court questioned.

“We are afraid that mere contempt notice may not solve the problem. Police always comes up with an excuse that CCTV is not working. They do not have the right to take away the life of a person who is arrested,” judges observed.Amicus curiae (friend of court) Dr Yug Chaudhry told the bench that the only way to stop custodial torture, a fact accepted by states world over, is getting CCTVs installed in police stations.

Apart from asking the Advocate General of the state to appear on the next hearing on October 21, the HC asked the CBI to inform whether it is going to file a chargesheet.

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