Evils Of Pre-independence Era Policing - Dare We Revisit?

Evils Of Pre-independence Era Policing - Dare We Revisit?

The shocking news of mob torching a police station in Bihar's Bojpur a couple of days back and injuring 14 police man, following an alleged custodial death, once again brings the pivotal issue of 'policing' to the forefront.

Police are supposed to secure life of the mortal being. They safeguard the personal liberty of an individual and are also mandated by law to protect private property. State acts through police to prevent private retribution and thereby, ensuring maintenance of peace. The Malimath Committee on Judicial Reforms also speaks on similar lines.

From the use of publicly-owned slaves for policing in ancient Greece to present day professionally trained men, so much has changed in the world of policing.

From the infamous Jallinwala Bagh incident in 1919 to the Chittor police firing in 2015, in which 20 suspected woodcutters were killed, it is clear that policing in India however has not changed much in a century.

Irish Constabulary, on the model of which the Indian Police has been designed, was abandoned in 1922 itself. State governments are shy to modernise the police as directed by the Supreme Court in Prakash Singh versus Union of India in 2006.

The Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment under the aegis of United Nations bans torture and like treatments in any form.

India, though being a signatory, has not ratified the convention as of yet. The late Justice VR Krishna Iyer opined that custodial torture was worse than terrorism because the authority of state was behind it.

A report titled 'Death Penalty India’ released in 2016 by the National Law University, Delhi, stated 80% prisoners were tortured in police custody in India. The report added that 64.3% prisoners were not produced before the magistrate within 24 hours despite being a constitutional safeguard.

Police custodial death is a blatant violation of Right to Life as enshrined in the Constitution.
Life is most precious of all things. The same precious life is taken by some individuals in uniform, mocking rule of law by blowing away all canons of propriety and law to the wind.

The Human Rights Watch, citing government data, stated 97 people died in police custody in 2015 alone. HRW added that at least 591 people died in custody between 2010 and 2015. Chairman of National Human Rights Commission Justice H.L. Dattu said Uttar Pradesh tops the list of police custodial deaths with 27 cases, based on data analysed between October 2015 and September 2016.

Practitioners of criminal law are well aware that police circumvent the law laid down by statue books and judicial pronouncements by taking the suspect into custody without recording formal arrest.

When the dividing line between professional engagement and personal achievement gets narrow, ego overpowers the men in uniform. Police may also be under pressure from their superior officers and media to produce results.

Mounting of cases and lack of facilities for professional investigation may also contribute to the use of torture. Many a times, police also claim to provide 'justice' to the victim. Over time, officials adopt torture by default, forgetting their oath of allegiance to the Constitution and the pledge to uphold the laws of the land.

The Law Commission of India, in its 113th report, has recommended inserting a new section- 114 B to the Evidence Act.

It shall read: In a prosecution (of a police officer) for an offence constituted by an act alleged to have caused bodily injuries to a person, if there is evidence that the injury was caused during a period when that person was in the custody of the Police, the court may presume that the injury was caused by the police officer having custody of that person during that period. Parliament may take steps to amend the Act.

The executive government shall take steps to separate law and order from investigation, set up laboratory facilities and give the investigators access to other scientific progresses in the area of crime detection. Periodical rotation between law and order, and investigation must be ensured. Crime Branch should not be the dumping yard of unfavourable officers and men.

Judiciary must enhance its vigil in protecting the rights of the individuals. The magistrates, who practically oversee investigation of cases, must be sensitised to protect civil liberties.

Nebil Nizar is a lawyer practising in the Supreme Court of India.

[The opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of LiveLaw and LiveLaw does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same].