Even as a section of lawyers is up in arms over the changes in the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) that clamp certain restrictions on the police while arresting the accused in an offence punishable by a maximum jail term of less than seven years the Union Home Ministry maintains that the amendments were required to incorporate the guidelines issued by the Supreme Court in the D K Basu case. In its judgment dated December 18,1996,a Division Bench of the apex court laid down the procedure that the police must follow while arresting an accused as well as later,when he is in custody.
It all started on August 26,1986,when Basu,a former judge of the Calcutta High Court,who was executive chairman of Legal Aid Services,West Bengal,sent a letter to the Chief Justice of India (CJI) to examine the issue and develop custody jurisprudence. The letter also sought proper compensation for torture or death in police custody.
The CJI directed that the letter be treated as a PIL and notices were issued to all state governments. However,the Government of West Bengal asserted that no instance of any custodial death had ever been hushed up and action was always initiated if any cop was found responsible for such an incident. It dubbed the PIL as misconceived,misleading and untenable in law.
The SC Bench comprising justices Kuldip Singh and A S Anand disagreed with the state government,observing that despite Constitutional and statutory provisions,incidents of torture and deaths in custody had continued.
Experience shows that worst violations of human rights take place during the course of investigation,when the police with a view to secure evidence or confession often resorts to third degree methods,including torture,and adopts techniques of screening arrest by either not recording the arrest or describing the deprivation of liberty merely as a prolonged interrogation, the Bench noted.
What also buttressed the case of the petitioner was a letter sent to the CJI in July 1987 by one Ashok Kumar Johri,highlighting the death in police custody of Mahesh Bihari of Aligarh. The court observed,In almost every state there were (such) allegations… at present there doesnt appear to be any machinery to effectively deal with such allegations. Renowned jurist A M Singhvi was appointed amicus curiae in the case.
The court after an almost 10 year hearing came out with a detailed judgment that set 11 guidelines for procedure for arrest and treatment of the accused as well as payment of monetary compensation to victims of custodial interrogation or the next of kin.