Nearly 5 custodial deaths daily in 2019-20, MHA tells Lok Sabha
Almost five persons died daily in custody in India in 2019-2020, according to data shared by the union ministry of home affairs (MHA) with Parliament on Tuesday.
The total number of people killed either in police custody or jails between April 1, 2019 and March 31 was 1,697. Of this, 1,584 died in judicial custody and 113 in police custody.
The most deaths in judicial custody, 400, were reported from Uttar Pradesh (UP) while the most in police custody, 14, were reported from Madhya Pradesh (MP). Tamil Nadu (TN) and Gujarat recorded 12 deaths each in police custody.
Police are often accused of high-handedness in India while dealing with people taken into custody. Tamil Nadu Police is already under the scanner for the killing of P Jeyaraj (58) and his son Benicks (37) inside a police station in Tuticorin on June 22. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is investigating the case.
MHA informed the Lok Sabha that while UP recorded maximum deaths (400) in judicial custody -- this usually includes deaths inside a jail or while taking an accused to a court -- the second-highest number of such deaths was reported from MP (143). This was followed by West Bengal (115), Bihar (105), Punjab (93) and Maharashtra (91).
The ministry hasn’t provided reasons for the deaths in police or judicial custody but government officials, who didn’t wish to be named, said the causes usually include illness, gang wars, suicides, or torture by the police or jail staff.
Experts say the data doesn’t reflect reality.
Senior lawyer and founder of Human Rights Law Network (HRLN) Colin Gonsalves said: “These custodial deaths are not even a third of actual deaths. What they (police) do is that when a person dies, they take him to the hospital and then show on paper that he died inside the hospital. They make doctors write ‘died in hospital’ in the report”.
Raja Bagga, programme officer at Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), said: “The government data t doesn’t give exact reasons for deaths in many instances. For example, in certain deaths, the National Crimes Record Bureau (NCRB) records the reason as ‘other’. We asked NCRB not to classify any deaths as such. There is a need to analyse in detail why these 1,700 odd deaths are taking place in police and judicial custody.”
Apart from deaths in custody, there were a total of 112 police encounters as well reported from various states between April 2019 and March, according to the MHA’s reply in Parliament on Tuesday. Chhattisgarh recorded highest number (39), while Uttar Pradesh, saw 26 encounters.
Government data reveals that there are a total of 1,350 prisons across the country, which have a cumulative capacity to lodge 4,03,739 prisoners. But almost all the jails are overcrowded, the data revealed.
Currently, there are 4,78,600 inmates lodged in all the prisons. UP’s 72 jails have the highest number of inmates at 1,01,297, while the capacity is 60,340.
In a written reply in the Lok Sabha, union minister of state (home affairs) G Kishan Reddy said that the Centre has issued an advisory on July 13 to all the states and UTs requesting them to sensitise and direct all functionaries of the state, district and below level to follow and adhere to law of the land and the guidelines issued by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) on custodial deaths, and to act firmly against any abuse of law in respect of custodial deaths.
He added that members, special rapporteurs and senior officers from NHRC carry out periodic visits to various jails to evaluate the living conditions and make recommendations for better protection of human rights.