Custodial Deaths


    In news

    • Over the last 20 years, 1,888 custodial deaths were reported across the country, 893 cases registered against police personnel and 358 personnel charge-sheeted. But only 26 policemen were convicted in this period.


    • States with highest number of deaths: The NCRB data show that the highest number of policemen convicted for custodial deaths was in UP and Madhya.
      • Gujarat reports the highest in custodial deaths.
    • NCRB: Since 2017, the NCRB has been releasing data on policemen arrested in custodial death cases.
      • However, this data is not available for the previous years.
    • Categories: In its records compiled from data submitted by states and Union Territories, the NCRB has categorised “deaths in police custody” under two categories:
      • The first category includes those who have been arrested but are yet to be produced before court, and
      • The second covers those in police/judicial remand.

    What is Custodial death?

    • Custodial Death is widely referred to as death that happens to a person who is under trial or has already been convicted of a crime.
    • It can be due to natural causes like illness or may also happen due to suicide, infighting among prisoners but in many instances, it is police brutality and torture that is the reason behind the death.

    Legal provisions against custodial torture in India

    The Indian Constitution and the legal regime provide various safeguards against custodial torture:

    • Protection against Conviction or Enhanced Punishment under Ex-Post Facto Law: Article 20(1) of the Constitution of India provides that, no person shall be convicted of any offence except for violation of law in force at the time of the commission of the act charged as an offence.
    • Protection against Double Jeopardy: Article 20(2) of the Constitution states that no person shall be prosecuted and punished for the same offence more than once.
    • Right not to be a witness against himself: Article 20(3) of the Constitution provides that no accused person will be compelled to be a witness against himself.
    • Section 163 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973: prohibits the investigating officers from making any inducement, threat or promise under Section 24 of the Indian Evidence Act (1872) but also prevents him from forcing any person to make any statement which he would like to make on his free will.
    • This right against self-incrimination: is in tune with Article 14(3) (g) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which calls on the member states to ensure that the accused is not compelled to testify against himself or to confess guilt.

    Issues/ Flaws in the working of the police

    • Lack of investigation: Policemen don’t investigate the cases properly. They try to defend their colleague which is wrong.
    • Wrong practices: Policemen use third-degree methods which inflict injuries on a person in custody which is a wrong practice.
    • Violation of human rights: Custodial deaths are one of the highest forms of violation of human rights. It is a blunt attack on the right to life and liberty guaranteed by the Indian Constitution.
    • Mental agony: A person under custody loses most of his rights including the right of free movement and the right to choose their preferred medical care. This adds to their mental agony.
    • Police enjoy a great deal of impunity in India: They are also adept at finding out ways and means to avoid the implementation of instructions. In the absence of any regular follow-up mechanism, the instructions still largely remain on paper.
    • Flaws in Doctor’s report: A very important safeguard against custodial death is the report of the Medical Officer. But mostly the doctors’ reports are concocted. They are intimidated by the police.


    • Accountability: The person responsible should be held accountable and the police must ensure that he is duly punished.
    • Sensitised and educated: Policemen need to be sensitised and educated, and told that they should rely on scientific methods of investigation and a proper interrogation technique.
    • Status of pending cases: If the NCRB also included information on the status of pending cases against police personnel, irrespective of the year of the police custody death, it would reflect a truer picture on the level of accountability in custodial death cases.
    • Law Commission recommendation: 113th report of the Law Commission had recommended the insertion of Section 114 B in the Indian Evidence Act, which puts the burden of proof on the police to explain any injury caused in custody.
    • Proper security of inmates: Proper security of inmates should be one of the top concerns of reformers and policymakers. A lot of attacks happen inside the prison between inmates which often prove to be fatal.
    • State’s responsibility: It is the responsibility of the state authorities to take care of their physical and mental disabilities and respond properly to their needs.

    Source: IE