Custodial Deaths


    In News

    • Recently, the Union government briefed Rajya Sabha on Custodial deaths in India


    • The Ministry of Home Affairs has recently informed the Rajya Sabha the details of the custodial deaths reported between April 1, 2017 and March 31, 2022, across all states and Union Territories in India.
    • Police brutality and violence have exponentially grown over the last four-five years in India.
    • Inadequate legal provisions in the judicial system to reprimand law enforcing authorities for carrying out brutal practices and resorting to torture have also contributed to this problem.
    • Previously, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) reported 2,150 deaths in judicial custody and 155 deaths in police custody in 2021-2022 which show a constant increase in custodial deaths.
    • Human rights activists have flagged it as every individual has the fundamental right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution of India.

    Key Findings:

    • Highest number of custodial deaths in the last five years have been reported in Gujarat at 80 followed by Maharashtra(76), Uttar Pradesh(41), Tamil Nadu(40) and Bihar(38) respectively.
    • Among the nine Union Territories, the highest incidents of custodial deaths were reported from Delhi at 29 in the last five years, followed by Jammu and Kashmir at four.
    • A total of 146 cases of death in police custody were reported during 2017-2018, 136 in 2018-2019, 112 in 2019-2021, 100 in 2020-2021, and 175 in 2021-2022.
    • States like Sikkim and Goa reported no incidents from 2017 to 2020 but recorded one incident of custodial death each in 2021-2022.
    • Altrhough the total tally of custodial deaths in the past five years was 9,112, the disciplinary actions were taken in only 21 cases, accounting for just 0.23% of the total cases
    • Nearly 69% of deaths in police custody from 2010-2020 occurred due to illness (40%) or suicide (29%) while physical assault by police has been observed in only 6% of cases.

    What is Custodial Death?

    • Custodial death refers to the death of an accused during pre-trial or after conviction, caused by the direct or indirect act of police during their custody. 

    Types of Custody:

    • About: Arrest and custody are not synonymous, and custody means keeping an individual in protective care based on the apprehension that he or she may cause harm to society.
      • Police custody: When a police officer arrests an individual accused of committing a crime and brings him to the police station, it is called police custody.
      • Judicial Custody: The accused is kept in the custody of the magistrate of the concerned area.
      • Custody and judicial remand under CrPC in India: According to Section 57 of the CrPC, a police officer cannot detain a person in custody for more than 24 hours and the officer needs to seek special permission from the magistrate to hold further.

    Major issues with Custodial Deaths in India

    Disregard to human dignity:

    • 2018 prison report of NCRB lists 149 custodial deaths due to unnatural causes and due to unknown causes with no recorded details.
    • Many deaths were caused by suicide, but it is unclear whether inmates committed suicide or were forced to avoid further violence and torture.
    • Psychological aspects of prisoners are neglected, and there is no psychiatric help available.

    Miserable Prison Conditions:

    • The prison conditions are miserable, and medical facilities offered to inmates are inadequate.
    • Fighting among inmates is frequent and fatal.
    • Physical agony adds to the mental trauma, severely impacting an inmate’s mindset.

    Excessive Power of Police:

    • Excessive power vested by the State in police authorities is one of the most important reasons behind the rise of custodial death.
    • Police authorities often resort to an excessive amount of force.
    • Many cases of custodial death are covered up in administrative cover-ups.
    • No stringent actions were taken against the individuals in the past, and no precedent has been set so far.

    Custodial Torture:

    • It refers to the torture of a suspect while under the custody of a law enforcement agency.
    • The Supreme Court has rejected the notion of custodial torture, citing it as a naked violation of human dignity and degradation.
    • It is an offense punishable by law, but the offender often does not get punished.
    • Doctors conducting post-mortems are pressured by police authorities, making it difficult to perform their medical duties diligently.

    Violation of Rule of Law:

    • About: Custodial death due to torture and violence by police goes against the fundamental structure of the Constitution of India and violates various fundamental laws that are guaranteed by the Constitution.
      • Article 20(1) prohibits punishment above what is mentioned in the law that deals with the offence.
      • Article 20(3) prohibits a person to be compelled to be a witness against himself.
      • Forced testimony is violative of Article 20(3).

    What are the Legal Provisions to Penalise Custodial Death?

    • Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC): Charges police officer with murder for the death of a suspect in custody
    • Section 304 of IPC: Punishes police officer for ‘culpable homicide not amounting to murder’, while Section 304A can be applied for custodial death by negligence
    • Section 176(1) of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC): Empowers magistrate to hold inquiry into cause of death during custody
    • Section 7 and 29 of Indian Police Act: Empowers senior police officers to dismiss or suspend negligent police officers, and penalises police personnel for carrying out their duty negligently

    International laws dealing with human rights

    • Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948 (UDHR): Every person should be treated as innocent until proven guilty and No person should be tortured or treated cruelly
    • International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966: Every individual has the inherent right to life and prevention of cruel, degrading, and inhuman treatment of prisoners
    • United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, 2015: It discourages any discrimination against prisoners based on race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or another opinion, national or social origin, property, birth, or another status.
    • United Nations Charter (1945): It sets out the purposes and principles of the UN, including the promotion of human rights.
    • European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms(1950): It is an international treaty that seeks to protect the human rights and fundamental freedoms of individuals in Europe. 

    7 directives laid down in Prakash Singh v. Union of India

    • Formation of a State Security Commission
    • Merit-based system for the appointment of the Director-General of the Police
    • Two-year minimum tenure for SP and station house officers
    • Separation of the investigation and law and order functions of the police
    • Establishment of a Police Establishment Board
    • Formation of a Police Complaint Authority
    • Formation of the National Security Commission

    Way Ahead

    • The need for a change in the alarming statistics of custodial deaths and for this the government must take steps to put checks and balances against Protection of police by the states which undermines the Constitution of India
    • In this direction, implementation of guidelines and directives recommended in Prakash singh case will be a welcome state to help prevent custodial deaths.

    Source: IE