The Supreme Court has passed a detailed and specific order directing states and the centre to take concrete steps towards ensuring that every police station in the country and all investigating agencies have CCTV cameras in their premises. The bench comprising Justices RF Nariman, KM Joseph and Aniruddha Bose have ordered setting up of state and district level oversight committees that will be responsible for making sure that these CCTV cameras are procured, installed and function so they can be of use during trial. The court has sought action plan affidavits from all states within 6 weeks and will hear the matter next on January 27, 2021.
In September, the court had impleaded all the States and Union Territories to find out the exact position of CCTV cameras at each Police Station as well as the constitution of Oversight Committees in accordance with the 2018 in Order in Shafi Mohammad v. State of Himachal Pradesh (2018) 5 SCC 311. As per action taken reports filed by 14 states and 2 union territories, the court observed that the majority of the Compliance Affidavits and Action Taken Reports fail to disclose the exact position of CCTV cameras in each Police Station and also do not disclose any details on oversight committees.
The court has also directed the centre to install CCTV cameras at other investigating agencies in areas where interrogation and holding of the accused takes place such as:
(i) Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) (ii) National Investigation Agency (NIA) (iii) Enforcement Directorate (ED) (iv) Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) (v) Department of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) (vi) Serious Fraud Investigation Office (SFIO) (vii) Any other agency which carries out interrogations and has the power of arrest.
Functions of oversight committees
The court emphasised upon the duties of the state level oversight committee (SLOC) which include:
a) Purchase, distribution and installation of CCTVs and its equipment;
b) Obtaining the budgetary allocation for the same;
c) Continuous monitoring of maintenance and upkeep of CCTVs and its equipment;
d) Carrying out inspections and addressing the grievances received from the DLOC; and
e) To call for monthly reports from the DLOC and immediately address any concerns like faulty equipment.
The court also mentioned the duties of the district level oversight committees (DLOC)
a) Supervision, maintenance and upkeep of CCTVs and its equipment;
b) Continuous monitoring of maintenance and upkeep of CCTVs and its equipment;
c) To interact with the Station House Officer (hereinafter referred to as the “SHO”) as to the functioning and maintenance of CCTVs and its equipment; and
d) To send monthly reports to the SLOC about the functioning of CCTVs and allied equipment.
e) To review footage stored from CCTVs in the various Police Stations to check for any human rights violation that may have occurred but are not reported.
The court has mandated that the SHO of a police station is to inform the DLOC if there is any fault with the equipment or malfunctioning of CCTVs and if CCTVs are not functioning, “the concerned SHO shall inform the DLOC of the arrest / interrogations carried out in that police station during the said period and forward the said record to the DLOC”.
The court has entrusted similar functions to the Central oversight Committee as the SLOC when it comes to central investigating agencies.
Position of CCTVs and further use
The court also directed the positions and points of direction of which the CCTVs are to be installed at a police station which includes all entry and exit points; main gate of the police station; all lock-ups; all corridors; lobby/the reception area; all verandas/outhouses, Inspector’s room; Sub Inspector’s room; areas outside the lock-up room; station hall; in front of the police station compound; outside (not inside) washrooms/toilets; Duty Officer’s room; back part of the police station etc.
The court also said that the CCTV must be equipped with night vision and must have audio as well as video footage with good image and audio resolutions. The recorded data shall be preserved for 18 months and if states are unable to acquire one with that much storage then the maximum storage may be purchased, not less than 1 year of data storage.
Redressal in custodial torture
The court has specifically ordered that in cases of custodial torture leading to severe injuries and/or deaths the person should be free to complain for redressal either at the state human rights commission or at the human rights courts which must be set up at district level in all states, as per section 30 of the Protection of Human Rights Act. Upon receiving such complaint “The Commission/Court can then immediately summon CCTV camera footage in relation to the incident for its safe keeping, which may then be made available to an investigation agency in order to further process the complaint made to it”.
Display of notice
The police stations and the investigation agencies offices should display a notice about the premises being under CCTV coverage and also specify the period for which such footage is preserved in that agency which may not be less than 6 months and stated that the victim has a right to have the same secured in the event of violation of his human rights.
The court has also required large posters to be put up clearly mentioning that “a person has a right to complain about human rights violations to the National/State Human Rights Commission, Human Rights Court or the Superintendent of Police or any other authority empowered to take cognizance of an offence”, in English, Hindi and vernacular language of that area.
The court has duly noted that nothing substantial has been done by states and Centre since two and a half years since its last order in Shafi Mohammad case and has directed that Affidavits be filed by Principal Secretary/Cabinet Secretary/Home Secretary of each State/ Union Territory giving this Court a firm action plan with exact timelines for compliance of this order, within 6 weeks.
On November 22, 2016, Justice Fateh Deep Singh of the Punjab & Haryana High Court held that illegal detention of petitioner’s sons by the Police was a violation of their Right to Life under Article 21 of the Constitution. (Baljit Singh & Ors vs State of Punjab CRWP No. 1245 of 2016)
“From the conduct of the respondent-State through its functionaries, the Police Officials have tortured and criminally assaulted causing indignity to these persons which conduct is cruel and inhumane and, thus, necessitates intervention by this Court”, he said while directing compensation to be paid as a relief to redress to some extent the wrong done to the persons who were illegally detained by the Police.
In 2020, a Special leave Petition was filed before the top court in pursuance of the same matter, focusing on the larger question of installing CCTVs in police stations and audio-video recordings of the statement given to the Police under section 161 (examination of witnesses by the Police) of the Code of Criminal Procedure. This was done to explore the measures that can be taken to curb police brutality.
On September 16, 2020, the Bench of Justices Rohinton Fali Nariman, Navin Sinha and Indira Banerjee, decided to implead all States and Union Territories (UT’s) in the matter to seek their responses on the exact position of installation of CCTV cameras. In addition to this they also ordered the states to apprise the court on the compliance with its 2018 order on the status of the constitution of Oversight Committees.
The 2018 judgment of the Supreme Court (Shafi Mohammad v. State of Himachal Pradesh (2018) 5 SCC 311), by Justices Rohinton Fali Nariman and Adarsh Kumar Goel, had directed every State to have an oversight mechanism where an independent committee can study the CCTV camera footages and periodically publish report of its observations.
The Supreme Court order may be read here.