Custodial deaths are due to bad working environment
On the hindsight, it is believed that it is the arrogance and bullying of our police force that lead to most of the custodial deaths. Surprisingly, between 2001 and 2010, more than four people died per day under police and judicial custody in India. The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) revealed that police had dragged out as many as 1,504 people across the country during the same period that caused their deaths inside the police stations. Torture being the lead cause of custodial deaths looms very large, according to Asian Center for Human Rights by its report – Torture in India, 2011. So much so, the incumbent government paid no heed to the Prevention of Torture Bill, headed by the Minister of State for Planning – Ashwini Kumar, that aimed at reducing custodial deaths. In fact, it is actually the performance-stifling parameters that lead to such civil violations by the police forces, who are thoroughly frustrated by the system (or the lack of it).
The working environment of our police forces is piled upon as a gigantic failure. Numerous police stations are decaying and face dearth of basic infrastructure that is required for investigation or maintenance of required records. A police station in Uttar Pradesh found an innovative way of dealing with substantial power outages – with no solutions, it has set up the desk outside the building in the open field! It’s a common problem in all police stations especially in the hinterlands. In another bizarre incident, this time in Himachal Pradesh, police personnel literally struggled for hours trying to unclasp a pair of rusted, tattered and a decade-old handcuff from a prisoner. Not to miss, there are about 7 police vehicles per 100 police staffs, which makes it compelling for the police in urban centres to use their own motorbikes with only marginal fuel cost reimbursed. Further, policeman’s duty encompasses 24x7 throughout the year – even though they are entitled for leaves – they are often called back in the middle of their vacation on account of perpetual staff shortages. In any case, most of the police officers work 12 – 16 hours a day. Low ranking police personnel generally live in the police barracks as the housing allowance they receive is never enough for private dwellings. Similar uncountable reasons form the deadly concoction of their frustration.
The Supreme Court in 2006 gave a landmark judgment aiming at a major police reforms. Some important directives include the state police must be purged of political influence by setting up a State Security Commission, a new Police Establishment Board will look after all transfers, promotions and posting for below the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police personnel and many more. Many states didn't comply with many of the directives. Moreover, these directives didn't address the plight of low ranking personnel’s living conditions, who are the main perpetrators of a culture that ignores the abuses that happens inside the police stations often culminating in custodial deaths.
There is no denial to the fact that custodial deaths are beastly and inhuman. Police officers' inhuman working environment clubbed with performance pressure clubbed with overall system failure is the real and the root cause of custodial deaths. Merely draft ing Prevention of Torture Bill would only be half-baked solution rather what we need is holistic police reforms, starting from making the lives of the lower rankers worth living.