Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR) in its report, released on June 26, stated that a total of 1,674 custodial deaths, including 1,530 deaths in judicial custody and 144 deaths in police custody, took place from 1 April 2017 to 28 February 2018. Which means that on an average there were about 5 custodial deaths per day in the aforementioned time period.
Custodial death is the event of demise of an individual, who has been detained by the police on being convicted or being undertrial. They can be classified into three broad categories: death in police custody, death in judicial custody, and death in custody of defence/paramilitary forces.
As police and public order are state subjects, the brunt of the allegations of institutional murder must be borne by the governments of the respective states, where the police commit such crimes.
Historically, Uttar Pradesh have had the worst record with respect to custodial deaths. During January to August 2017, 204 such deaths were reported in UP, and by February 2018 the numbers had almost doubled.
Insurgency hit states such as J&K reported four custodial deaths, four in Meghalaya, three in Mizoram, two each in Manipur and Nagaland. Although these states have had lower custodial deaths, however, they are notorious for extra judicial killings.
“The ratification of the UN Convention Against Torture is also indispensable if India is serious to extradite fugitives to India as the UNCAT prohibits refoulment or extradition where there are substantial grounds for believing that the requested person sought to be extradited would be in danger of being subjected to torture. India has already lost the case of extradition of Kim Davy, an accused of Purulia arms dropping case of 1995 in Denmark and extradition of Sanjiv Chawla, an alleged cricket bookie in the United Kingdom on the ground that prison conditions in India amount to torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and that India has not ratified the UNCAT. Unless India removes the legal obstacles by ratifying the UNCAT, it may lose other extradition requests. Putting pressure on the European governments for extradition to India will not work as the European Governments like the Government of India cannot interfere in subjudice matters and the financial fugitives will mount legal challenge at every step.” – stated Asian Centre for Human Rights.
The huge number of custodial deaths in the country, points toward the widespread use of torture at the hands of the police, who have no regard for human dignity of prisoners.
The ACHR report further stated that, “The Supreme Court had made it clear that prisoners are persons and are entitled to fundamental rights while in custody (in Sunil Batra (II) v. Delhi Administration. Later, in Rama Murthy v. State of Karnataka)
The SC identified as many as nine issues facing prisons and needing reforms. They are:
- Delay in trial
- Torture and ill-treatment
- Neglect of health and hygiene
- Insubstantial food and inadequate clothing
- Prison vices
- Deficiency in communication
- Streamlining of jail visits
- Management of open air prisons
Judge R.C. Lahoti in his letter highlighted four issues:
- Overcrowding of prisons
- Unnatural death of prisoners
- Gross inadequacy of staff
- Available staff being untrained or inadequately trained
The letter was turned into a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) by an order dated 5 July 2013 and notice was issued to all the appropriate authorities. “However, a closer scrutiny of the responses received indicates that by and large the steps taken are facile and lack adequate sincerity in implementation”, the SC bench stated in the order dated 5th February 2016.”
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