Protector can’t adopt brutality: Supreme Court on custodial torture

Updated on Feb 12, 2021 02:10 AM IST

The top court was dealing with appeals filed by two retired policemen from Odisha who were convicted of torturing a man in custody, leading to his death.

The bench noted that the beating of a person in the police station was a matter of concern and causes a “sense of fear in the entire society.“ Such offences, in the court’s view, should not be compounded on payment of compensation.(HT file photo)
The bench noted that the beating of a person in the police station was a matter of concern and causes a “sense of fear in the entire society.“ Such offences, in the court’s view, should not be compounded on payment of compensation.(HT file photo)
ByAbraham Thomas, New Delhi

Beating a person in a police station causes a sense of fear in society, is a matter of great public concern and such brutality on the part of the police cannot be condoned, the Supreme Court said on Thursday.

The court was dealing with appeals filed by two retired policemen from Odisha who were convicted of torturing a man in custody, leading to his death. The offence was committed on May 4, 1985 and the Orissa high court on November 9, 2020 reduced the eight-year and five-year jail sentences awarded to the two to one year of simple imprisonment for the crime of causing hurt under section 324 of the Indian Penal Code.

The policemen, Pravat Chandra Mohanty and Pratap Kumar Choudhury, now over 75 years of age, made an abortive last-ditch attempt in the Supreme Court to erase the criminal taint on them and instead offered to pay an additional compensation of 3.5 lakh each to the family of the person they were convicted of killing.The policement had deposited 3 lakh each in compensation for the person’s family on a direction passed by the high court. But this amount was found to be inadequate by the top court.

A bench of justices Ashok Bhushan and Ajay Rastogi said: “The people look forward to the police to protect their life and property. People go to the police station with the hope that their person and property will be protected by the police and injustice and offence committed on them shall be redressed and the guilty be punished. When the protector of people and society himself instead of protecting the people adopts brutality and inhumanly beat the person who comes to the police station, it is a matter of great public concern.”

The officers in question were the station in-charge and senior Inspector at Purighat police station. The bench noted that the beating of a person in the police station was a matter of concern and causes a “sense of fear in the entire society.“ Such offences, in the court’s view, should not be compounded on payment of compensation.

“The present is a case where the accused who were police officers, one of them being in-charge of Station and other Senior Inspector have themselves brutally beaten the deceased, who died the same night. Their offences cannot be compounded by the Court in exercise of Section 320(2) read with subsection (5) of the Code of Criminal Procedure. We, thus, reject the prayer of the appellants to compound the offence.”

The court accepted the offer of additional compensation offered by the convicted and directed the money to be distributed equally among their victim’s four sons or their legal heirs. Considering their old age, the bench reduced their punishment from one year’s imprisonment to six months.

The two policemen were initially charged for graver offences of culpable homicide not amounting to murder (IPC Section 304) and wrongful confinement (IPC Section 342), among others. The trial court found them guilty on all charges and sentenced them to eight years and five years of imprisonment in August 1988. The high court took a lenient view and set aside their conviction under culpable homicide.

Glancing through the prosecution records describing the crime committed by the accused policemen, the apex court said, “The custodial violence on the deceased which led to the death is abhorrent and not acceptable in the civilized society. The offence committed by the accused is crime not against the deceased alone but was against humanity and clear violations of rights guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution.”

The compensation deposited by the accused before the top court was directed to be remitted to the trial court to be paid to the legal heirs of the deceased.

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