Supreme Court notice to Centre, states on custodial deaths, rapes
The Supreme Court issued notice to the Centre and states on a petition seeking a mandatory judicial probe in cases related to custodial deaths, rapes, or disappearances.
The plea, filed by activist Suhas Chakma highlighted the alleged non-implementation of a law that provides for a judicial enquiry into such cases.
The petition , heard by a bench of justices Rohinton Nariman and S Ravindra Bhat pointed out that Section 176(1A) which was inserted in the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) in 2006 to address the problem of custodial deaths and rapes, has remained on paper and not been implemented till date.
Chakma in his petition prayed for a direction to register and initiate proceedings under Section 176 (1A), in all such cases.
Section 176(1A) was conceived in 1994 by the Code of Criminal Procedure Code (Amendment) Bill. It was, however, passed only 10 years later in 2005 and came into force on June 23, 2006.
It mandates that an inquiry should be conducted by a magistrate if a person dies or disappears or a woman is raped when in police or judicial custody.
The petitioner submitted that non-implementation of Section 176(1A) has effectively defeated the legislative intent behind the law and ended up shielding delinquent police or prison officials.
The petitioner cited annual reports published by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) which comes under the Ministry of Home Affairs that showed the death or disappearance of 1,303 people in police custody from 2005 to 2017.
Out of the 1,303, 827 were not remanded to police custody by court and 476 were remanded to police custody by courts.
In the 827 cases of death or disappearance of persons in police custody without court remand, judicial inquiry was ordered only in 166 cases i.e. 20% of the total cases, the petitioner said.
Out of the 476 cases in which persons remanded to police custody by courts died or disappeared, judicial inquiry was ordered only in 104 cases i.e. 21% of the total cases.
The petitioner also argued that in those cases where people have been remanded to police custody by the court, the latter is also responsible for the protection of the life of the person. Thus, the petitioner contended that the death or disappearance of persons in police custody after court grants remand and the failure to order judicial inquiry as per section 176(1A) is a colossal and unconscionable failure of the lower judiciary.
The petitioner also stated that though only 1,303 deaths or disappearances were recorded as per NCRB data, the National Human Rights Commission received complaints and reports of 24,043 custodial deaths/rapes between 2005-2006 to 2018-2019. This number was 11,520 from the period between 1994-95 and 2004-2005.
Thus, the petition pointed out, the number of custodial deaths/ rapes registered by NHRC per day in India increased by 66% i.e. from three cases per day prior to the enactment of Section 176(1A) CrPC to five cases per day after the enactment.
The petition also stated that Right To Information queries seeking details from states and union territories on custodial deaths did not elicit any response except from a few police stations in Assam, Delhi, Maharashtra, Meghalaya, Odisha and Telangana.
The petitioner told the court that unless Section 176(1A) is implemented in letter and spirit, heinous offences such as death or disappearance of a person or rape of women in custody shall continue unabated in the custody of the police or in any other custody authorised by the Magistrate or court.
“In a civilized society, it is the fear of law that prevents crimes but in India, there is effectively no fear of the law among the delinquent police or prison officials who commit custodial crimes with impunity”, the petition stated.