1700 custodial deaths in a year, yet no anti-torture law!

The national tally for reported encounter deaths was 112, in a year

custodial deaths

The Ministry of Home Affairs told the Parliament on September 15, 2020, that Uttar Pradesh (UP) reported the highest number of custodial deaths, while in judicial custody, in 2019-20. UP recorded 400 such deaths, followed by Madhya Pradesh (MP) with 143 deaths and ranking third was Bihar with 105 deaths in judicial custody; all in a matter of 1 year. While this is the data on deaths in judicial custody, the number of deaths in police custody have also been put forth. 

MP topped the list with 14 such deaths followed by Gujarat and Tamil Nadu, both having the same tally of 12 deaths each. There are several states which reported zero deaths in police custody, such as Arunachal Pradesh, Goa, Jammu and Kashmir, Nagaland, Sikkim, Telangana and majority of the Union Territories.

This data was presented for a question put forth by P Chidambaram in the Lok Sabha, during the ongoing Monsoon session of the Parliament. Due to Covid-19 restrictions, the house remains in session for only 4 hours and question hour has been eliminated. Thus, only written answers to the questions are put up.

Chidambaram probed the MHA on data on custodial deaths as well as deaths due to encounters in each state in the past year, from April 1, 2019 to March 31, 2020.

It is pertinent to note that the data presented above related to custodial deaths is only of “reported cases” and it is known that several cases of deaths in police custody go unreported. Hence, the total tally of 1,697 custodial deaths could probably just be the tip of the iceberg.

On the question of encounter deaths, the data for 2019-20 showed that Chhattisgarh topped the list with 39 encounter killings, followed by UP having reported 26 encounter deaths. The rest of the states reported encounter deaths in single digit while many had reported none. Yet, the total national tally for encounter deaths was 112, in just one year.

Further, as per data submitted by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), it recommended monetary relief to the tune of Rs. 4.44 crore in cases of custodial deaths and Rs. 88 lakh in cases of encounter deaths, in total. However, whether these recommendations were considered and implemented, is unclear as the MHA was silent on the same.

Anti-torture law

Another question was posed by Kanimozhi Karunanidhi of DMK, asking whether the government was considering to bring a legislation to prevent torture of individuals by police and public officials. The MHA responded, that no such law was under consideration.

In the winter session of 2019, the MHA had responded to a similar question of anti-torture legislation stating, “the 273rd Report of the Law Commission and the draft of ‘The Prevention of Torture Bill, 2017’ has been considered by the government, along with comments from State government and that the ‘government is seized of the matter’.” The Prevention of Torture Bill lapsed in 2019, due to dissolution of the 15th Lok Sabha.

The Prevention of Torture Bill proposes to provide punishment for torture inflicted by public servants or any person inflicting torture with the consent or acquiescence of any public servant. It defines torture as an act by a public servant or by a person with acquiescence of a public servant, causes grievous hurt or danger to life, limb or health (whether mental or physical).

Further, it proposes punishment of minimum 3 years which may be extended to 10 years and fine, for torture inflicted for purpose of extorting confession, or for punishing or on the ground of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, caste or community or any other ground.

With the rising number of cases of custodial deaths, it was expected that the government at least show the willingness for introducing a law for prevention of torture in custody, but it only disappoints. From being ‘seized of the matter’ in December 2019, to not considering the law at all in September 2020, the intention of the government is clear. Despite rising cases of custodial deaths, like the killing of father-son in Tamil Nadu, the death of a daily vendor in Gujarat (brought in on suspicion of theft), the encounter killing of most wanted criminal Vikas Dubey as well as the encounter killing of four accused in the Hyderabad vet’s rape case, the government refuses to deal with the matter at all; while granting the police officials responsible for these incidents impunity.

A detailed analyses of the Prevention of torture bill may be read here.

The Parliament responses may be read here.





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