Why in the News?


Recently, the Supreme Court has underscored the importance of employing a “more stringent method” when evaluating bail requests from law enforcement officers accused in instances of custodial Deaths. A Bench consisting of Justices Aniruddha Bose and P V Sanjay Kumar remarked as they revoked the bail granted to a police constable implicated in a custodial death case dated February 12, 2021.


Meaning of Custodial Death-


  • Custodial death refers to the demise of an individual that occurs while they are under the custody of law enforcement authorities, typically in police custody or in a detention facility.


  • As outlined by the Law Commission of India, when a public servant commits an offense against an individual who is under arrest or detained, such actions constitute custodial violence.


Reasons for Custodial Deaths in India-


Custodial deaths in India can occur due to various reasons, often stemming from systemic issues within the criminal justice system. Some possible reasons include:


    1. Police Brutality and Torture: One of the primary reasons for custodial deaths is police brutality and torture. Suspects or detainees are sometimes subjected to physical abuse, torture, or excessive force during interrogation or while in custody, leading to severe injuries or death.
    2. Lack of Oversight and Accountability: There is often a lack of effective oversight mechanisms and accountability within law enforcement agencies. This allows for unchecked abuse of power, with officers facing little to no consequences for their actions.
    3. Inadequate Training and Sensitization: Insufficient training of law enforcement personnel on human rights standards and proper procedures for handling detainees can contribute to incidents of custodial deaths. Lack of awareness about legal boundaries and protocols may result in misuse of authority and violence.
    4. Overcrowded and Poorly Maintained Detention Facilities: Many police stations and jails in India are overcrowded and poorly maintained, lacking basic amenities and healthcare facilities. In such environments, detainees are vulnerable to physical harm, neglect, and medical emergencies, increasing the risk of custodial deaths.
    5. Delay in Legal Proceedings: Lengthy legal proceedings and delays in the justice system can prolong the detention period of individuals, exacerbating their vulnerability to mistreatment or neglect while in custody.
    6. Corruption and Misconduct: Instances of corruption and misconduct within law enforcement agencies can further exacerbate the risk of custodial deaths. Bribery, collusion, and other forms of malpractice may undermine efforts to uphold the rule of law and protect the rights of detainees.
  • Lack of International commitment: India, despite signing the United Nations Convention against Torture in 1997, has yet to ratify it. While signing signifies the country’s willingness to adhere to the treaty’s obligations, ratification involves implementing laws and mechanisms to fulfill these commitments.


Constitutional and Legal Safeguards against Custodial Deaths-


In India, there are several constitutional and legal safeguards in place to address custodial deaths and protect the rights of individuals in custody. These safeguards include:

  1. Constitutional Protections: The Indian Constitution guarantees certain fundamental rights to all individuals, including those in custody. These rights include the right to life and personal liberty (Article 21), protection against torture and inhuman treatment, and the right to legal representation and fair trial. Article 20 provides safeguarding against unjust and disproportionate punishment for an accused individual, regardless of their citizenship status or legal entity, such as a company or corporation.
  1. Legal Framework: India has enacted specific legislation to prevent custodial deaths and hold accountable those responsible for such incidents. The most notable among these is the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993, which establishes the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and State Human Rights Commissions (SHRCs) to investigate complaints of human rights violations, including custodial deaths.
  2. Criminal Laws: Various provisions of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) address offenses related to custodial deaths, including sections on homicide, culpable homicide not amounting to murder, assault, and torture. These laws provide for the prosecution of law enforcement officials found guilty of causing death or harm to individuals in custody.
  3. Judicial Oversight: The judiciary plays a crucial role in safeguarding against custodial deaths through its power of judicial review. Courts can issue writs such as habeas corpus to ensure the legality of detention and can also take suo motu cognizance of cases involving custodial deaths to ensure prompt investigation and accountability.
  4. Supreme Court Guidelines: The Supreme Court of India has issued guidelines and directives to prevent custodial deaths and ensure accountability. These include guidelines on the arrest and detention of individuals, the use of force by law enforcement agencies, and the need for independent and impartial investigations into cases of custodial deaths.



Landmark Supreme Court Judgements on Custodial Deaths-



  • D.K. Basu vs. State of West Bengal (1997): This case resulted in the formulation of guidelines commonly known as the “D.K. Basu Guidelines” to prevent custodial torture and deaths. The Supreme Court outlined several measures including the requirement for police personnel to carry accurate and visible identification, the right of the detainee to inform a friend, relative, or lawyer about their arrest, and the mandate for police to maintain a register of arrestees at the police station.
  • Nilabati Behera vs. State of Orissa (1993): In this case, the Supreme Court recognized the right to compensation for victims of custodial deaths. The Court held that custodial death violates Article 21 of the Constitution, which guarantees the right to life and personal liberty. It established the principle of strict liability on the state to compensate the victim’s family for custodial deaths, irrespective of whether the state was directly responsible for the death.
  • State of Maharashtra vs. Ravikant S. Patil (2011): In this case, the Supreme Court reiterated that custodial death is a serious violation of human rights and emphasized the duty of the state to ensure the safety and security of individuals in custody. The Court emphasized the need for independent and impartial investigations into cases of custodial deaths and held that the burden of proof lies on the custodial authorities to prove that the death occurred due to natural causes and was not a result of torture or negligence.



Measures to be taken to tackle Custodian Deaths-


  1. Strengthening oversight and accountability: Ensuring that there is proper supervision and accountability at all levels of the criminal justice system, from police officers to prison officials. This includes implementing clear guidelines, monitoring systems, and reporting mechanisms for any misconduct or abuse.
  2. Providing adequate training and Sensitization: : Ensuring that law enforcement officers and prison staff receive proper training in human rights, effective communication, and non-violent conflict resolution. This will help them better handle situations involving detainees and minimize the use of force.
  3. Implementing reforms: Implementing comprehensive reforms in the criminal justice system, including addressing overcrowding in prisons, improving access to legal representation, and ensuring that detainees receive fair and timely trials.
  4. Ensuring access to medical care: Ensuring that detainees have timely access to medical care, including mental health care, to prevent injuries and illnesses that may lead to death.
  5. Implementing the use of CCTV cameras: Installing CCTV cameras in detention facilities can help monitor the treatment of detainees and provide evidence in case of any abuse or neglect.
  6. 6. Offering compensation to families: Providing financial compensation to the families of those who have died in custody can help alleviate some of their suffering and may serve as a deterrent to future incidents.
  7. Collaborating with civil society: Engaging with civil society organizations, including human rights groups, to monitor detention facilities and advocate for improvements in the treatment of detainees,
  8. Access to Legal Representation: Ensuring that detainees have prompt access to legal representation and are informed of their rights, including the right to remain silent and the right to consult with a lawyer. Legal aid services should be readily available to 

individuals who cannot afford representation.


Download Yojna daily current affairs eng med 17th April 2024


Prelims based Question-



Q1. Consider the following statements:

  1. India is a signatory to United nations convention against Torture.
  2. Article 21 of Constitution guarantees Right to life which also includes Right to be free from torture.

Choose the correct answer using the codes given below:

(a). 1 Only

(b). 2 Only

(c). Both 1 and 2

(d). Neither 1 nor 2




Mains based Questions-


Q1. How do systemic issues within the criminal justice system contribute to custodial deaths in India, and what measures can be taken to address these underlying causes?

Q2. What are the legal and constitutional provisions in India aimed at preventing custodial deaths, and how effectively are they enforced?


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