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Mystery jail deaths not uncommon

india Updated: Mar 12, 2013 02:22 IST
Satya Prakash

Once again, an accused in a high-profile case died in mysterious circumstances in a jail. Ram Singh, 35 and one of the six accused in the 16/12 gang rape case, allegedly used a rope to hang himself from a rod in his cell’s ceiling.

The fact that even Tihar director general Vimla Mehra failed to explain how the prisoner died makes it more intriguing.

The case reminds one of biscuit tycoon Rajan Pillai, who died in mysterious circumstances in Tihar in July 1995. The authorities had then said liver cirrhosis caused his death.

Unfortunately, the disturbing trend of mysterious custodial deaths continues. Most cases don’t hit headlines as only high-profile ones attract the media.

Asia’s largest jail housing over 12,000 prisoners reported 18 deaths, including two suicides, in 2012. Singh’s is the third such incident in the past 15 months. No wonder the Delhi High Court had in June 2010 said custodial deaths were not an uncommon phenomenon in Tihar.

The problem is not confined to Tihar or Delhi alone. And this is not the first time that a key accused or a witness in a high-profile case has been “found dead” in mysterious circumstances. It’s a serious problem confronting the criminal justice system in India.

Many important witnesses/accused in the fodder scam case, including kingpin Shyam Bihari Sinha, died mysteriously.

Ashutosh Asthana, the main accused in the Supreme Court-monitored Ghaziabad PF scam case, died in October 2009 in mysterious circumstances in Dasna Jail.

Lucknow deputy chief medical officer Dr YS Sachan, an accused in the murder of two chief medical officers, was found dead in a toilet in Lucknow jail in June 2011.

In January 2012, National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) scam key accused Sunil Verma too died mysteriously.

Former telecom minister and prime accused in the 2G scam A. Raja’s aide Sadiq Batcha allegedly committed suicide at his residence on March 16, 2011.

According to the “Torture in India 2011” report prepared by the Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR), 12,727 deaths in judicial custody between 2001-2002 and 2009-10 were recorded by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). This means an average of 1,416 people per year or about four persons per day died in judicial custody.

“There are too many cases of deaths in mysterious circumstances in judicial custody, yet no effective preventive measures are taken,” ACHR director Suhas Chakma said, demanding “a free, fair, transparent judicial inquiry” into Singh’s case.

It is imperative that whosoever is found guilty of any wrongdoings, including negligence in ensuring safety of the undertrial, must be brought to book. Else, it will further erode people’s faith in the judicial/prison system.