At five deaths per day in custody, scuttling of law by cops rampant in India under Modi
A total of 1,674 custodial deaths, including 1,530 deaths in judicial custody and 144 deaths in police custody, took place from April 1, 2017, to February 28, 2018, translating into five deaths a day
0n June 26, as the world came together to commemorate the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture 2018, the Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR) called upon the Indian government to ratify the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT).
The demand comes in the wake of a sharp upward spiral in the incidents of custodial torture and violence in India, and the steadily rising difficulty in getting fugitives extradited because India has not ratified the convention.
A total of 1,674 custodial deaths, including 1,530 deaths in judicial custody and 144 deaths in police custody, took place from April 1, 2017, to February 28, 2018, as per figures placed by the Ministry of Home Affairs before the Rajya Sabha on March 14, 2018.
“This implies 1,674 deaths in 334 days (11 months), i.e. over five custodial deaths per day on an average during 2017-2018. This constitutes a significant increase in the number of custodial deaths as a total of 14,231 custodial deaths ie about four custodial death per day on an average were reported during 2001 to 2010”, ACHR stated in its report.
During 2017-2018, the highest number of custodial deaths took place in Uttar Pradesh (374) followed by Maharashtra (137), West Bengal (132), Punjab (128), Madhya Pradesh (113), Bihar (109), Rajasthan (89), Tamil Nadu (76), Gujarat (61), Odisha (56), Jharkhand (55), Chhattisgarh (54), Haryana (48), Delhi (47), Assam (37), Andhra Pradesh (35), Uttarakhand and Telangana (17 each), Karnataka (15), Himachal Pradesh (8), Arunachal Pradesh and Tripura (6 each), Jammu & Kashmir and Meghalaya (4 each), Mizoram (3), Manipur, Chandigarh, Sikkim and Nagaland (2 each). The report expressed concern about the government not heeding the Law Commission’s 273rd report which called for India to ratify the UNCAT.
In a first of its kind, it also recommended that those state agents- policemen, military and paramilitary personnel – who were accused of custodial torture – should be criminally prosecuted instead of facing just administrative action. The Supreme Court, hearing a PIL filed by Congress leader and former minister Ashwani Kumar, had taken note of the Law Commission’s report and had said that the government should take necessary steps of ratifying the convention.
Non-ratification of the UNCAT has also resulted in India not being able to get many fugitives, some of them notorious, extradited and making them face the law. This is because the UNCAT prohibits extradition where there are substantial grounds for believing that the requested person sought to be extradited would be in danger of being subjected to torture.
Vijay Mallya is the fugitive who is the latest one to have used this loophole to argue against his extradition. The report reads: “India has already lost the case of extradition of Kim Davy, an accused of Purulia arms dropping case of 1995 from Denmark and extradition of Sanjiv Chawla, an alleged cricket bookie from the United Kingdom on the ground that prison conditions in India amount to torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and that India has not ratified the UNCAT. Unless India removes the legal obstacles by ratifying the UNCAT, it may lose other extradition requests.”
“Putting pressure on the European governments for extradition to India will not work as the European Governments like the Government of India cannot interfere in sub judice matters and the financial fugitives will mount legal challenge at every step.
The non-ratification of the UNCAT is seriously hurting India’s counter-terror and anti-corruption measures.” The Attorney General had told the Supreme Court that the government was seriously considering the Law Commission report, but there has been no progress since then.
It is also true that at many a domestic and international fora, the government had contended that ratification of the UNCAT would pose a big impediment to police investigation and counter-terrorism operations. Some national security experts have also sided with the government, though civil society organisations and experts in criminology and human rights have strongly contested the government’s stand. As the stalemate continues, innocents continue to suffer at the hands of the state, while fugitives have an easy time.