ACCOUNTABILITY OF POLICE BY MANVI SINGH @LEXCLIQ

The incidence of police brutality, abuse of power and pre-trial detention in India has always remained a serious issue of human rights violations and has increased manifold in the recent past. The police are the most important law enforcement agency entrusted with preventing and detecting crime within a country. The police must maintain law and order in society and ensure peace. More often than not, one comes across news of manhandling and illegal detention by the police of innocent persons. There is mounting national and international pressure to protect and conserve certain basic human rights of all individuals.

Physical and verbal abuse
The recent case of custodial death in Tamil Nadu’s Tuticorin of the father-son duo, P. Jayaraj and J. Benicks, has brought into light the need for generating awareness regarding the protection of human rights of persons in custody. Jayaraj and Benicks were taken into custody for violating Covid-19 curfew hours and died in custody two days after their release. The family suspected that they had been tortured. According to the family, the duo was taken to a government hospital on 20thJune 2020, where they were found in bad shape, and their pants were soaked in blood.

As the gruesome details became known, the case sparked outrage on and off social media and soon gained national attention, and the Madras High Court took up suo moto cognizance of the matter and directed the Kovilpatti Judicial Magistrate to inquire into the matter.

On the basis of a report of the local Magistrate investigating the deaths, the High Court stated there was a prima facie case of murder against the main accused. The Court also cited the serious injuries listed in the post-mortem report and testimony of the eyewitness, a female constable at the police station. Hours later, the five policemen were arrested.

According to the Magistrate, the CCTV footageof the assault had been erased, and the officers had initially refused to submit the batons they had used to beat the two men with. The officers who were accused in the deaths were initially transferred, and, as demands for more severe action grew, they were suspended.

There are have been several instances where the police have severely manhandled the citizens irrespective of whether they have been arrested or whether they are innocent bystanders who approach the police to register a complaint. For instance, in April 2020, Mohammed Rizwan was beaten with lathis and rifle butts for venturing out of his home, attempting to buy biscuits. After such gruesome treatment was meted out to him, he succumbed to injuries after two days. Legally speaking, no police officer can physically beat any person to make an arrest or compel their production in a police station.

Available Remedies
Denial of basic rights to persons in custody constitutes an ascertained blow on human dignity, having the effect of destroying an individual’s personality. The Courts in India have been vigilant against the infringement of the human rights of those detained by giving a liberal and expansive interpretation of life and personal liberty. Obtaining an effective remedy for complaint against the police is integral so as to protect the rights of citizens. According to the National Crime Bureau, there are about 54, 916 complaints were reported in 2015, out of which only 16,308 complaints were inquired into, but only 1122 police officers were actually prosecuted, and only 25 of them have been convicted. There seems to be no logical explanation for such poor rates of conviction of police personnel.

Police Complaint Authority
In the landmark judgement in Prakash Singh v. Union of India, the Supreme Court, upon an extensive review of past authorities, cases alleging misuse of powers by the police and reports of various Commissions set up to give recommendations for greater accountability of police in India, directed inter alia, the establishment of a Police Complaint Authority (PCA) in all states by the enactment of appropriate legislation.

Conclusion
With the steady increase in the number of cases of police brutality in India, it has become an inordinate concern of human rights violation that requires immediate action. It is highly inappropriate that the police take the law into its own hands and abuses the process of law. The statistics show that the rate of police accountability and conviction of such officers is considerably low. Police being the primary law enforcement authority and an integral structure of the State, abuse of legal processes and powers by it is highly dangerous to democracy and can lead to a state of anarchy.

It is essential that legislative and executive actions are taken to ensure a free and fair investigation or inquiry into the matters of police atrocities. Many a times, the officials responsible for such gruesome acts go unpunished. Senior police officers should not protect the persons responsible for custodial crimes. An attitude of sensitivity towards human rights should be inculcated through training and awareness programmes. Mechanisms should be developed to properly investigate the matter by setting up a fair and impartial Committee to look into the matter. It is required that prompt and effective action is taken against the persons responsible for human rights violation, and mere suspension must not be taken recourse to.

Although the Supreme Court directed the State legislatures to established a PCA at the state and district levels, only 18 states have done so. Furthermore, there is a severe lack of awareness of the existence of the PCA amongst the general public. It is also highly recommended that the appointments to the Authority are made by an independent, unbiased and impartial body. Another major drawback of the PCA is that its recommendations are not binding and merely of a directive nature. Nonetheless, the establishment of PCA is a step in the right direction; effective implementation and awareness would protect and preserve the rights of the public and the spirit of democracy.

Recently, to protect the interests of persons brought into the police station for investigation, the Supreme Court in Paramvir Singh Saini v. Baljit Singh and Ors. directed the government to ensure the installation of CCTV cameras and recording equipment in all interrogation rooms, lockups used by various investigative agencies.

WRITTEN BY MANVI SINGH

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