TERMING the two-fold rise in cases of custodial deaths across Maharashtra in the 2014-2015 period a “matter of shame”, the Bombay High Court Wednesday directed the state government to furnish details of such cases including the name of the deceased, the police station, the dates of arrest and remand and charges the deceased were booked under.
Taking a stern view of government’s inability to install CCTVs in police stations, Justices V M Kanade and Revati Mohite Dere pointed out that the HC had passed directions regarding this a year ago. “The impression is that those arrested for petty crimes are subjected to this kind of torture in order to extract confession,” the court remarked.
“It is a matter of shame that the accused face such torture at the hands of the police and die,” the court observed.
The government through its lawyer Mankunwar Deshmukh tried to argue about the “liberal interpretation” of custodial torture. She said even deaths in custody occurring due to natural causes or any other factor were also being treated as custodial deaths.
“It is not so. On several instances, the accused is sick or there are other factors apart from torture,” Deskhmukh said, only to evoke a strong objection from amicus curiae and senior lawyer Dr Yug Mohit Chaudhry.
Deshmukh submitted a sheet with statistical data highlighting 114 as the total number of custodial deaths from 2013 to 2015. “Only three of these deaths have been due to torture,” she said.
Chaudhry is assisting the court in the matter of Leonard Valdaris, whose son Agnelo was allegedly killed in police custody. “There are cases where the police has claimed that the accused tried to commit suicide by poisoning themselves or by hanging. Why would anybody go to police custody to commit suicide?” he asked.
The HC had on August 13, 2014 directed that CCTV cameras be installed in all corridors, rooms and lock-ups of every police station in Maharashtra. The order, however, has not been complied with.
In a pilot project, the home department has decided to install CCTV cameras in 25 police stations. Chaudhry argued that the government had diluted the order through its Government Resolution of November 23, 2015 limiting the scope to a mere 25 police stations. “Cameras have been installed in charge rooms, passages, lock-ups and not the interrogation rooms,” he said.
Meanwhile, Anandrao Patil, Joint Secretary of the Home Department, said in an affidavit that 1,080 police stations in the state have been fitted with 2,436 CCTVs. The state now has time till February 24 to furnish the details demanded by the court.