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Tehelka: Four custodial deaths daily over the last decade

The report published by the Asian Centre for Human Rights is available at this link.

14,231 persons died in police and judicial custody in India from 2001 to 2010, says shocking ACHR report

Arpit Parashar
New Delhi

A report by the Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR) has brought into sharp focus the issue of custodial deaths again. According to the report, “Torture in India 2011”, four custodial deaths occurred daily over the past decade.

A total 14,231 persons died in police and judicial custody in India from 2001 to 2010—1,504 deaths in police custody and 12,727 in judicial—according to the cases submitted to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).

During the ten-year period, Maharashtra recorded the highest number of deaths in police custody with 250 deaths, followed by Uttar Pradesh (174), Gujarat (134), Andhra Pradesh (109), West Bengal (98) and Tamil Nadu (95). “Though Maharashtra has a total population of 112 million in comparison to 199 million in Uttar Pradesh, according to 2011 census, the fact that 76 more persons were killed in police custody in Maharashtra shows that torture is more rampant in Maharashtra than Uttar Pradesh,” Suhas Chakma, director of the ACHR, pointed out.

UP tops in judicial custody deaths with 2,171 deaths, followed by Bihar (1,512), Maharashtra (1,176), Andhra Pradesh (1,037), Tamil Nadu (744), Punjab (739), West Bengal (601), Jharkhand (541) and Madhya Pradesh (520).

“About 99.99% of deaths in police custody occur due to torture within 48 hours of victims being taken into custody,” Chakma said. Shockingly, figures for Jammu and Kashmir show that only six custodial deaths occurred during the same period. The ACHR, which has a consultative status with the United Nations, has pointed out in the report that the number of deaths in police custody recorded from conflict-hit states like J&K and Manipur do not reflect the gravity of the situation. The report adds that in March, J&K Chief Minister Omar Abdullah in a written reply to the Legislative Council stated that 341 persons had died in police custody in the state since 1990.

“A large majority of these deaths are a direct consequence of custodial torture. These deaths reflect only a fraction of the problem as not all deaths in police custody and prisons are reported to the NHRC. Further, the NHRC does not have jurisdiction over the armed forces and also does not record statistics of torture not resulting in death,” Chakma added. Denial of medical facilities and sub-human conditions in jails is another reason for the alarming figures.

The NHRC has framed guidelines for reporting all deaths and cases of custodial deaths, whether natural or otherwise, within 24 hours of their occurrence, and also prepares reports to ascertain any foul play by the police and government officials. Besides, as per Section 176 of the Criminal Procedure Code, the district administration is required to conduct mandatory judicial enquiry into cases of death, disappearance or rape of an inmate and conduct a thorough medical examination within 24 hours in case of any death. The district administration has the sole authority to register such cases and order enquiries. However, these norms are brazenly flouted with actual number of cases never reported to the NCHR, which is not empowered to take punitive action against offenders.

Despite repeated efforts by activists, including those of NHRC, India has not ratified the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment although it is a signatory since October 1997. Consequently, laws have not been modified accordingly to hold perpetrators accountable.

“The failure of the Ministry of Home Affairs to introduce the Prevention of Torture Bill—drafted by the Rajya Sabha Select Committee, headed by Minister of State for Planning Ashwani Kumar in December 2010—in the winter session of Parliament demonstrates India’s lack of political will to end torture,” Chakma said.

The Bill is the first step towards ratification of the UN Convention, which was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in December 1975. Ratification of the convention requires enabling legislation that would be necessary to give effect to the Articles of the Convention. The ACHR has called upon the government to enact the Bill without any dilution, and recommended to the NHRC to suggest prosecution of guilty public officials in cases in which compensation has been recommended.


Deaths in police custody (2001-02 to 2009-10)

Deaths in judicial custody (2001-02 to 2009-10)

Andhra Pradesh 109 1037

Assam 84 165

Gujarat 134 458

Jammu and Kashmir 6 6

Karnataka 67 496

Madhya Pradesh 55 520

Maharashtra 250 1176

Manipur 2 1

Nagaland 2 6

Orissa 34 416

Punjab 57 739

Uttar Pradesh 174 2171

West Bengal 98 601

Delhi 30 224

Chhattisgarh 24 351

Jharkhand 41 541