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CUSTODIAL DEATHS AND POLICE REFORMS

Focus: GS2: Police Reform

Why in news?

  • The custodial deaths of a father and son in Tamil Nadu’s Thoothukudi district has created a nationwide uproar with the family blaming police torture.
  • Crime records and survey reports show that violence by police has been reported across the nation, that police personnel are not adequately trained in human rights, and that they have the tendency to inflict punishments outside the judicial process.

Data and Understanding Custodial Deaths

  • According to the latest Crime in India report by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), 70 people died in police custody in 2018 – (Highest recorded in Gujrat Followed by Tamil Nadu).
  • The numbers increased as in 2019, at least 117 deaths in police custody were reported to National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).
  • Studies show that deaths in police custody occur primarily as a result of torture.
  • Three in every four died due to alleged torture or foul play, and many died in suspicious circumstances with the police claiming they either committed suicide or died of illness or accident.
  • Reports also say that the practice of torturing suspects in police custody to punish them, gather information, extract confessions, or demand bribes, was rampant.

Punishment and training

  • NCRB data for 2018 shows that even as 89 cases were registered against police personnel for human rights violations such as custodial killings and illegal detentions, not a single one was convicted of the crime.
  • Findings from the Status of Policing in India report showed that the police in India suffers from inadequacies and biases which might lead to such behaviour.
  • The report showed that more than 10% police personnel never receive human rights training.
  • Even among the personnel who received training in human rights, a majority said it was only at the time of joining the police force.

Police reforms

  1. Gore committee on police training (1971-73) – recommended to enlarge the content of police training from law and order and crime prevention to a greater sensitivity and understanding of human behaviour.
  2. National police commission 1977 – recommended insulating the police from illegitimate political and bureaucratic interference.
  3. Padmanabhaiah Committee 2000 – recommended that constables, and the police force in general, should receive greater training in soft skills (such as communication, counselling and leadership) given they need to deal with the public regularly.
  4. The ARC recommended separation of crime investigation from other police functions i-e maintenance of law and order, establishment of state police boards, welfare and grievances redressal mechanisms for police personnel.
  5. Prakash Singh vs Union of India case directed the government to constitute –
  • State Security Commission (SSC) to ensure that state government does not exercise unwarranted influence or pressure on the police.
  • Police Establishment Board (PEB) – made up of the DGP and four senior officers – to decide transfers, postings, promotions and other service related matters of police, for the rank below DSP.
  • Police Complaints Authority (PCA) at state level to inquire into public complaints against police officers of above the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police.
  • National Security Commission (NSC) at the union level to prepare a panel for selection and placement of Chiefs of the Central Police Organizations (CPO) with a minimum tenure of two years.

SC also directed the government to –

  • Ensure that the DGP is appointed through the merit-based transparent process and secure a minimum tenure of two years
  • Separate the investigation and law and order functions of the police.
  1. Yashwant Vs the State of Maharashtra – Obeying orders of superiors is no excuse. Prove that you believed the orders were legal.
  • Our police force needs to develop and recognise the concept of ‘democratic policing’.
  • Crime control is not the only end, but the means to achieve this order is also equally important.
  • The court said, “With great power comes greater responsibility”.
  • who are called upon to administer the criminal law, must bear, in mind, that they have a duty not merely to the individual accused before them, but also to the State and to the community at large.
  • The court observed, ‘be you ever so high, the law is always above you!’
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October 2022
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