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Supreme Court agrees to hear plea for mandatory judicial inquiry in cases of custodial death, custodial rape

The petitioner points out that there were as many as 1,303 cases of deaths or disappearances of persons while in police custody between 2005 and 2017. Of these cases, 827 are of instances where the police custody was without court remand. An inquiry was ordered only in 166 out of the 827, it is highlighted.

Shruti Mahajan

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear a plea filed by an activist seeking the implementation of Section 176(1A) of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), which provides for mandatory judicial inquiry in cases of custodial death and custodial rape.

The Bench of Justices Rohinton Nariman and Ravindra Bhat today agreed to hear the petition filed in this regard by Human Rights activist, Suhas Chakma.

 Justices Rohinton Nariman and Ravindra Bhat
Justices Rohinton Nariman and Ravindra Bhat

The petitioner has contended before the Supreme Court that Section 176(1A), CrPC has remained untouched despite having introduced in the CrPC back in 2005.

While the the wordings used in the provision make it mandatory for a judicial inquiry to be carried out in cases of death, disappearance, or alleged rape while in custody, the same does not translate on ground, the petitioner argues.

Securing judicial inquiries into death or disappearance of a person or alleged rape in custody is indeed an uphill task and an insurmountable political battle, despite the law providing for mandatory judicial inquiries into such offences.
Suhas Chakma, in his petition

Chakma also cited figures and statistics from the annual reports published by the National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) between the years 2005, (when the provision was brought in force) and 2017 to illustrate the abysmal implementation of the provision.

He points out there were as many as 1,303 cases of deaths or disappearances of persons in custody. Of this 827 cases are of instances where the police custody was without court remand. A judicial inquiry was ordered in merely 166 of them, the petitioner submits.

In relation to cases where the disappearance or death took in police custody with Court remand, judicial inquiry has been ordered only in 21% of the cases, it is stated.

Death or disappearance of persons not remanded to police custody by court is nothing but murder/killing of the defenceless citizens/persons who have appeared after being summoned by the police or already taken into custody... this exposes the abysmal failure of the laws relating to arrest and detention, and contempt for the Guidelines issued by the Supreme Court in D.K. Basu v. State of West Bengal.

Suhas Chakma, in his petition

Chakma has contended that the Judiciary also has a responsibility to ensure the protection of the person detained in custody. He has, therefore, sought a direction from the Court for the initiation or registration of an inquiry under Section 176(1A), CrPC in all cases where such inquiry has not been initiated.

The death or disappearance of persons in police custody after court grants remand and the failure to order judicial inquiry as per Section 176(1A) is a colossal and unconscionable failure of the lower judiciary.
Suhas Chakma, in his petition

Chakma has also prayed that the Supreme Court direct the lower judiciary to file quarterly reports before the concerned jurisdictional High Court, intimating information regarding deaths, disappearances, or rape of any person in custody. The reports should also carry details of the number of cases in which inquiry was initiated in, the petitioner says.

Further, the petitioner has urged that the National Human Rights Commission to be empowered to invoke Section 176(1A), CrPC for initiating inquiry where it is not done.