THOUGH a legal provision for magisterial inquiry into cases of custodial deaths was made in 2006, it has emerged that this amendment in law was not circulated among police stations until 2016.
According to public prosecutor Sandip Shinde, an amendment was made by the Central government in Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC). The resulting provision — Section 176 (1) A — provides for the police station to inform the nearest judicial magistrate about a death in custody. Under this provision, the magistrate is empowered to hold inquests by ordering a post mortem of the body within two days. On the basis of the same provision, the magistrate can direct an inquiry thereafter.
However, it was only on May 3 this year that a circular was issued to police stations across Maharashtra regarding this legal provision. Also, jails across the state are yet to receive the circular, said Shinde. The larger issue of custodial deaths emerged from a petition filed by Leonard Valdaris, whose son Agnelo was allegedly killed in police custody.
Considering the arguments of the prosecutor, the bench of Justices A S Oka and P D Naik directed the state government to give statistics of all such cases which fall under the purview of Section 176 (1) A of the CrPC.
According to the 2014 statistical data on custodial deaths, of the total 61 deaths in police custody or disappearance of persons from custody who were remanded to court, 17 cases were reported in Maharashtra. In 2013, the state accounted for 35 per cent of all custodial deaths in the country. Of 97 such deaths reported across 28 states in the country, Maharashtra accounted for 34.
To combat the rising number of custodial deaths in police stations, the state government had earlier decided to zero in on sensitive police stations. This isolation was supposed to be carried out before close circuit television cameras (CCTV) could be installed across police stations.
In a counter view, the amicus curiae (friend of court) advocate Yug Mohit Chaudhry had then submitted a letter from the Centre to the state showing unused funds from previous years that were disbursed for a modernisation scheme of the police force.