SC issues notice to NHRC, Centre; asks if state Commissions are functioning

This notice has been issued in an application filed by Abhishek Manu Singhvi seeking revival of the monumental DK Basu case in the light of rising custodial deaths


The Supreme Court has issued notice to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) as well as the Centre and sought to know whether all State Human Rights Commissions are functional.

Senior Advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi has filed an application through Advocate Lzafeer Ahmad, in the Supreme Court seeking to revive the continuous mandamus of the apex court in the DK Basu v. State of West Bengal case which went on for about 2 decades. The case was heard by different benches over the years and the alarming rise in the number of custodial deaths in recent times has prompted this application for revival of the case. Singhvi was the amicus curiae (friend of the court) in the DK Basu since its inception and has submitted to the court that as per data 2017-18 data only 2.2 % of cases of custodial deaths were recommended for being prosecuted and this stood at 1.2 % in the preceding year. He also pointed towards the data from the National Crime Records Bureau report of 2018 which stated that as many as 148 custodial deaths took place in 2017-18.

The bench comprising Justices UU Lalit and Vineet Saran has directed the NHRC and the Centre to file detailed replies along with data from all states with respect to custodial deaths in police and judicial custody.

Legal news website Bar and Bench reported that the application “is an attempt to further expand and enhance the institutional framework for minimizing custodial death and custodial torture, provide intrinsic and substantial safeguards to citizens and the public to minimize such transgressions, and to ensure a reform that is case-neutral, event-neutral and state-neutral and which focuses on principles of human and civil rights.”

Reference was also made to recent incidents of custodial deaths in Tamil Nadu of the father-son duo and encounter killing of the gangster Vikas Dubey stating that the lack of accountability results in scant regard for guidelines and protocols that have been put in place by the apex court over the years.

The application also seeks directions from the court to the Centre to ratify the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, 1987 and to incorporate its provisions into domestic Indian law.

The other directions sought include aspects like putting policemen named in cases of custodial deaths be put under suspension until the Magistrate exonerates him/her; disentitlement of policemen under departmental action/prosecution for custodial death/torture/encounter killing from receiving any award from the government; all police stations and prisons to be equipped with CCTVs; explore the possibility of providing dashboard / personnel cameras for police officials while making arrest. The case is scheduled for hearing next on August 26.

The DK Basu case was converted into a Public Interest Litigation by the Supreme Court in 1987 stating that preventing breaches of affirmed rights of the people was a sacred duty of the court as courts are custodians and protectors of fundamental and the basic human rights of the citizens. The DK Basu guidelines emphasized a great deal on the rights of the person being arrested or detained, to know about his offence and to contact a relative informing about the same as well as reinforcing the 24 hour rule of being presented before a Magistrate, among others.


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