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How to check abuse of Police Power

How to check the abuse of Police Power?

Transparency of Action and Accountability perhaps are two possible safeguards which we must insist upon. Attention is also required to be paid to properly develop work culture, training and orientation of the police force consistent with basic human values. Training methodology of the police needs restructuring. The force needs to be infused with basic human values and made sensitive to the constitutional ethos. Efforts must be made to change the attitude and approach of the police personnel handling investigations so that they do not sacrifice basic human values during interrogation and do not resort to questionable forms of interrogation.

With a view to bring in transparency, the presence of the counsel of the arrestee at some point of time during the interrogation may deter the police from using third degrees methods during interrogation.

Apart from the police, there are several other governmental authorities also like Directions of Revenue Intelligence, Directorate of Enforcement, Coastal Guard, Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), Border Security Force (BSF), the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), the State Armed Police, Intelligence Agencies like the Intelligence Bureau, R.A.W., Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), CID, Traffic Police, Mounted Police and ITBP, which have the power to detain a person and to interrogate him in connection with the investigation of economic offences, offences under the Essential Commodities Act, Excise, and Customs Act, Foreign Exchange Regulation Act etc.

There are instances of torture and death in custody of these authorities as well. In Re Death of Sawinder Singh Grover[1], (to which Kuldip Singh, J. was a party) Court took suo motu notice of the death of Sawinder Singh Grover during his custody with the Directorate of Enforcement. After getting an enquiry conducted by the Additional District Judge, which disclosed a prima facie case for investigation and prosecution, this Court directed the CBI to lodge a FIR and initiate criminal proceedings against all persons named in the report of the Additional District Judge and proceed against them.

The Union of India/Directorate of Enforcement was also directed to pay a sum of Rs. 2 lacs to the widow of the deceased by way of ex gratia payment at the interim stage. Amendment of the relevant provisions of law to protect the interest of arrested persons in such cases too is a genuine need.

There is one other aspect also which needs our consideration. We are conscious of the fact that the police in India have to perform a difficult and delicate task, particularly in view of the deteriorating law and order situation, communal riots, political turmoil, student unrest, terrorist activities, and among others the increasing number of underworld and armed gangs and criminals. Many hard core criminals like extremists, the terrorists, drug peddlers, smugglers who have organized gangs, have taken strong roots in the society.

It is being said in certain quarters that with more and more liberalisation and enforcement of fundamental rights, it would lead to difficulties in the detection of crimes committed by such categories of hardened criminals by soft peddling interrogation, it is felt in those quarters that if we lay too much of emphasis on protection of their fundamental rights and human rights, such criminals may go scot-free without exposing any element or iota of criminality with the result, the crime would go unpunished and in the ultimate analysis the society would suffer. The concern is genuine and the problem is real.

To deal with such a situation, a balanced approach is needed to meet the ends of justice. This is all the more so in view of the expectation of the society that police must deal with the criminals in an efficient and effective manner and bring to book those who are involved in the crime. The cure cannot, however, be worse than the disease itself.

The response of the American Supreme Court to such an issue in Miranda v. Ariona[2], is instructive. The Court said:
 A recurrent argument, made in these cases is that society's need for interrogation cut-weighs the privilege. This argument is not unfamiliar to the Court[3]. The whole thrust of our foregoing discussion demonstrates that the Constitution has prescribed the rights of the individuals when confronted with the power of Government when it provided in the Fifth Amendment that an individual cannot be compelled to be a witness against himself. That right cannot be abridged.

There can be no gain saying that freedom of an individual must yield to the security of the State. The right of preventive detention of individuals in the interest of security of the State in various situations prescribed under different statutes has been upheld by the Courts. The right to interrogate the detenue, culprits or arrestees in the interest of the nation, must take precedence over an individual's right to personal liberty.

The latin maxim salus populi est suprema lex (the safety of the people is the supreme law)and salus republicae est suprema lex (safety of the State is the Supreme law) co-exist and are not only important and relevant but lie at the heart of the doctrine that the welfare of an individual must yield to that of the community.

The action of the State, however, must be  Right, Just and Fair . Using any form of torture for extracting any kind of information would neither be 'right nor just nor fair' and, therefore, would be impermissible, being offensive to Article 21. Such a crime-suspect must be interrogated and subjected to sustained and scientific interrogation, determined in accordance with the provisions of law. He cannot, however, be tortured or subjected to third degree methods or dominated with a view to elicit information, extract confession or drive knowledge about his accomplices, weapons etc.

His Constitutional right cannot be abridged except in the manner permitted by law, though in the very nature of things there would be qualitative difference in the method of interrogation of such a person as compared to an ordinary criminal.

Challenge of terrorism must be met with innovative ideas and approach. State terrorism is no answer to combat terrorism. State terrorism would only provide legitimacy to 'terrorism'. That would be bad for the State, the community and above all for the Rule of Law. The State must, therefore, ensure that various agencies deployed by it for combating terrorism act within the bounds of law and not become law unto themselves.

That the terrorist has violated human rights of innocent citizens may render him liable for punishment but it cannot justify the violation of his human rights except in the manner permitted by law. Need, therefore, is to develop scientific methods of investigation and train the investigators properly to interrogate to meet the challenge.

In addition to the statutory and constitutional requirements to which we have made a reference, we are of the view that it would be useful and effective to structure appropriate machinery for contemporaneous recording and notification of all cases of arrest and detention to bring in transparency and accountability.

It is desirable that the officer arresting a person should prepare a memo of his arrest at the time of arrest in the presence of at least one witness who may be a member of the family of the arrestee or a respectable person of the locality from where the arrest is made. The date and time of arrest shall be recorded in the memo, which must also be counter signed by the arrestee.

The following requirements to be followed in all cases of arrest or detention (illegal provisions are made in that behalf as preventive measures as provided for the first time in D.K. Basu vs State of West Bengal[4]:
  1. The police personnel carrying out the arrest and handling the interrogation of the arrestee should bear accurate, visible and clear identification and name tags with their designations. The particulars of all such police personnel who handle interrogation of the arrestee must be recorded in a register. (Section 41-B of CrPC)
  2. That the police officer carrying out the arrest of the arrestee shall prepare a memo of arrest at the time of arrest and such memo shall be attested by at least one witness, who may be either a member of the family of the arrestee or a respectable person of the locality from where the arrest is made, it shall also he countersigned by the arrestee and shall contain the time and date of arrest. (Section 41-B of CrPC)
  3. A person who has been arrested or detained and is being held in custody in a police station or interrogation center or other lock-up, shall be entitled to have one friend or relative or other person known to him or having interest in his welfare being informed, as soon as practicable, that he has been arrested and is being detained at the particular place, unless the attesting witness of the memo of arrest is himself such a friend or a relative of the arrestee. (Section 41-B of CrPC)
  4. The time, place of arrest and venue of custody of an arrestee must be notified by the police where the next friend or relative of the arrestee lives outside the district or town through the Legal Aid Organisation in the District and the police station of the area concerned telegraphically within a period of 8 to 12 hours after the arrest.
  5. The person arrested must be made aware of this right to have someone informed of his arrest or detention as soon as he is put under arrest or is detained.
  6. An entry must be made in the diary at the place of detention regarding the arrest of the person which shall also disclose the name of the next friend of the person who has been informed; of the arrest and the names and particulars of the Police officials in whose custody the arrestee is.
  7. The arrestee should, where he so requests, be also examined at the time of his arrest and major and minor-injuries, if any, present on his/her body, must be recorded at that time. The  Inspection Memo  must be signed both by the arrestee and the police officer affecting the arrest and its copy provided to the arrestee. (Section 54 CrPC)
  8. The arrestee should be subjected to medical examination by a trained doctor every 48 hours during his detention in custody by a doctor on the panel of approved doctors appointed by Director, Health Services of the concerned State or Union Territory, Director, Health Services should prepare such a panel for all Tehsils and Districts as well.
  9. Copies of all the documents including the memo of arrest, referred to above, should be sent to the Magistrate for his record.
  10. The arrestee may be permitted to meet his lawyer during interrogation, though not throughout the interrogation. (Section 41-D of CrPC)
  11. A police control room should be provided at all district and State headquarters, where information regarding the arrest and the place of custody of the arrestee shall be communicated by the officer causing the arrest, within 12 hours of effecting the arrest and at the police control room it should be displayed on a conspicuous police board. (Section 41-C of CrPC)

Failure to comply with the requirements herein above mentioned shall apart from rendering the concerned official liable for departmental action, also render him liable to be punished for contempt of Court and the proceedings for contempt of Court may be instituted in any High Court of the country, having territorial jurisdiction over the matter.

The requirements, referred to above flow from Articles 21 and 22(1) of the Constitution and need to be strictly followed. These would apply with equal force to the other governmental agencies, also to which a reference has been made earlier.

These requirements are in addition to the constitutional and statutory safeguards and do not detract from various other directions given by the Courts from time to time in connection with the safeguarding of the rights and dignity of the arrestee.

Creating awareness about the rights of the arrestee would in our opinion be a step in the right direction to combat the evil of custodial crime and bring in transparency and accountability. It is hoped that these requirements would help to curb, if not totally eliminate, the use of questionable methods during interrogation and investigation leading to custodial commission of crimes.

Punitive and Monetary Measures

UBI JUS IBI REMIDIUM -There is no wrong without a remedy. The law wills that in every case where a man is wronged and undamaged he must have a remedy. A mere declaration of invalidity of an action or finding of custodial violence or death in lock-up, does not by itself provide any meaningful remedy to a person whose fundamental right to life has been infringed. Much more needs to be done.

Some punitive provisions are contained in the Indian Penal Code which seek to punish violation of Right to Life. Section 220 provides for punishment to an officer or authority who detains or keeps a person in confinement with a corrupt or malicious motive. Sections 330 and 331, provide for punishment of those who inflict injury or grievous hurt on a person to extort confession or information in regard to commission of an offence.

Illustrations (a) and (b) to Section 330 make a police officer guilty of torturing a person in order to induce him to confess the commission of a crime or to induce him to point out places where stolen property is deposited. Section 330, therefore, directly makes torture during interrogation and investigation punishable under the Indian Penal Code.

These statutory provisions are, however, inadequate to repair the wrong done to the citizen. Prosecution of the offender is an obligation of the State in case of every crime but) the victim of crime needs to be compensated monetarily also. The Court, where the infringement of the fundamental right is established, therefore, cannot stop by giving a mere declaration. It must proceed further and give compensatory relief, not by way of damages as in a civil action but by way of compensation under the public law jurisdiction for the wrong done, due to breach of public duty by the State of not protecting the fundamental right to life of the citizen.

To repair the wrong done and give judicial redress for legal injury is a compulsion of judicial conscience.
Article 9(5) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966 (ICCPR) provides that  anyone who has been the victim of unlawful arrest or detention shall have enforceable right to compensation .

Of course, the Government of India at the time of its ratification (of ICCPR) in 1979 had made a specific reservation to the effect that the Indian legal system does not recognize a right to compensation for victims of unlawful arrest or detention and thus did not become a party to the Covenant. That reservation, however, has now lost its relevance in view of the law laid down by this Court in number of cases awarding compensation for the infringement of the fundamental right to life of a citizen.
  • Rudal Shah v. State of Bihar[5];
  • Sebastian M. Hongrey v. Union of India
  • Rajendra Singh v. Smt. Usha Rani[6];
  • Saheli v. Commissioner of Police, Delhi[7]
There is indeed no express provision in the Constitution of India for grant of compensation for violation of a fundamental right to life, nonetheless, this Court has judicially evolved a right to compensation in cases of established unconstitutional deprivation of personal liberty or life, as said in Neelabati Behera v. State [8].

Till about two decades ago the liability of the Government for tortious act of its public servants was generally limited and the person affected could enforce his right in tort by filing a civil suit and there again the defense of sovereign immunity was allowed to have its play. For the violation of the fundamental right to life or the basic human rights, however, this Court has taken the view that the defence of sovereign immunity is not available to the State for the tortious acts of the public servants and for the established violation of the rights guaranteed by Article 21 of the Constitution of the India[9].

  1. 1995 Supp (4) SCC 450,
  2. (1966) 384 US436
  3. Chambers v. Florida, (1940) 309 US 227.
  4. (1997) 6 SCC 642.
  5. (1983) 4 SCC 141 : (AIR 1983 SC 1086)
  6. (1984) 3 SCC 339 : (AIR 1984 SC956),(I984)3SCC82:(A1R 1984 SC 1026)
  7. (1990) I SCC 422 : (AIR 1990 SC 513).
  8. (1993 AIR SCW 2366)
  9. Nilabati Behera v. State.
Written by- Maryanka and Harshit

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