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Custodial deaths: Banality of evil?

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Mahatma Gandhi in his journal Harijan once wrote- “The police of my conception will be servants, not masters of the people. The police force will have some kind of arms, but they will be rarely used, if at all. In fact, the police men will be reformers. Their police work will be confined primarily to robbers and dacoits.”

Gandhiji saw police as a tool to forge solidaritybased relations in his social project. The men who would enter the ranks of police will be believers in nonviolence. The malfeasance on the part of Thoothukudi police, which took place in Tamil Nadu draws a sharp contrast between the role that was envisaged and what was witnessed on the unfateful night of 19th June, 2020 . All the more baffling is the timing of it when there is a global outrage against the law enforcement agencies in general, following the death of George Floyd in the United States of America.

The Toothukudi atrocity led to the death of the father-son duo in the custody. The policemen who have the moral and legal duty to observe the rule of law strayed from performing that duty. If we try to create an imagery through the lens of Mahatma Gandhi’s eyes, we would fail because our vision will get clogged up by the filth from abuse of power and a blatant neglect to the rule of law.

 The alleged charge of lockdown violation would have attracted a maximum of three months imprisonment if they were proven guilty. The policemen were clearly hoodwinked into thinking they were super cops from a cop-centric blockbuster for it was so easy for them to strip away their moral accretions.

 They violated the basic fundamental right, Article 21 of Indian Constitution that, inter alia, guarantees protection from police atrocities under the ambit of right to life and personal liberty. The Supreme court in Kharak Singh v. State of held that ‘life’ meant something more than mere animal existence. In the Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India expanded its interpretation to rule that living is not merely restricted to physical existence but it also included within its ambit the right to live with human dignity. Thus, there is no dearth of precedents to understand what is a dignified life and what threatens it.

Torture is one such element that threatens a dignified living. The apex court in D.K. Basu v. State of West Bengal has prescribed guidelines to prevent any kind of violation of rights of prisoners. Any form of torture or inhuman or degrading treatment during the investigation, interrogation or otherwise is in violation of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.

Despite such precedents, custodial violence in India is a reality we should not shy away from. The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data pegs custodial deaths at 1,727 between 2001 and 2018. However, a paltry 26 policemen were convicted of custodial violence. The situation seems grimmer in the states of Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh and Maharastra where there is nil conviction despite more than 100 deaths.

Another very marked evidence of the lackadaisical approach towards custodial violence and human rights in general, is the weak functioning of National Human Rights Commission. It remains a “toothless tiger” with role being limited to providing compensation to victims.

These are tell-tale signs of the dilution of ethos of human rights and justice. Keeping this article an easy read by not making it stolidly fact-laden, we would like to categorically state that police barbarity is becoming a new normal in India. The men who were tasked to serve, rescue and protect the common man and his rights are now perplexing him from inside.

Having said that, it is pertinent to discuss how this new normal has emerged which shows our tryst with non-violence as a hypocritic observance only. India is yet to have an anti-torture legislation that could criminalize custodial violence. We signed the UN Convention against Torture in 1997, but have not ratified it yet. Thus, the government is not obligated to fulfill the commitments under the convention as of now.

What this means for the citizenry in India is that it cannot sue a police officer for any wrongdoing and such a prerogative rest only with the government. Taking cognizance of this loophole, the Supreme Court in Prakash Singh v Union of India, directed the states to constitute independent complaint authority to inquire into the cases of police misconduct. But, a study by Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) shows that only 12 states had constituted a Police Complaints Authority (PCA) in accordance with the directive even after a decade. Moreover, not even a single state complies with the court’s directions with regards the composition, selection process and functioning of the PCAs which was the most perturbing revelation for us.

Way Forward

It must be categorically stated that the death of the duo is a ruthless exhibition of abuse of power and there ought to be no excuse for the perpetrators. But, we must also ask ourselves whether it will be enough to set things right. This incident is also a wake-up call for our law makers to devise a robust framework to counter the evil of custodial violence.

To begin with, India should ratify the UN convention against torture. The need for obtaining sanction under Section 197 of the Code of Criminal Procedure before pursuing charges against police misconduct should be done away with.

The magistrate in the Toothukudi case sanctioned the remand of Jayaraj and Bennix without checking on injuries and bleeding. Such incidents of judicial impropriety should not go unpunished. Judicial magistrates are the first line of protection from rogue police and thus, have immense responsibility in deliverance of justice.

 It goes without saying that human rights framework in our country needs an overhaul. This argument gains more credence when it is seen in the light of enactment of the Protection of Human Rights Act (1993) and the dip in the incidents of custodial violence thereafter, reflecting a negative correlation between the two. Moreover, it is high time to consider the recommendations of the NHRC on police reforms which include, inter alia, the constitution of a Police Security and Integrity Commission (PSIC) to lay down a concrete set of service guidelines for the police.

In addition to these, Law Commission in its 198th and 273rd report has iterated that there is an urgent need to strengthen the witness protection regime to protect the victims and witnesses of custodial killings.

Apart from these institutional measures, ethical luminaries make a case for reforming the behavioural aspects too. A report by Common Cause and CSDSLokniti shows that 12 per cent of the police personnel never receive human rights training. Also, the methods adopted by policemen that are against the ethos of Article 21, ignorance of rules, unnecessary arrests etc. reflect that the Code of Conduct for the police has failed to improve policing on the ground. So, there is a need to sensitize the lower-rung policemen and imbibe the values of public service in them. A landmark DK Basu judgment comes to our mind in which the apex court issued directions to increase transparency and due diligence while making arrests.

The modernisation of police is long overdue. CAG has highlighted the issue of underutlisation of funds allocated under the Modernisation of Police Forces (MPS) Scheme. The fund can be put to use to bring interventions like body cameras, CCTVs, narcoanalysis etc. These tools and techniques would go a long way towards striking a balance that sufficiently assuages skepticism about the negative role of the police without compromising the powers they need to carry out their duties.

 Lastly, the culture of impunity needs to go. The policemen involved in the incident must realize the gravity of their sins. Strict punishment and remorse is the only way forward for them. If those involved go scot-free again, a dangerous precedent will be set.

To sum up, the police is an extended arm of the state. As such, the aim of the police must align with that of state: governance and service. The Leviathan state is an outdated concept in the age of human rights and should not come back again. Constant police harassment of people will leave the victims and lay public alike in a constant state of fear. In addition to the Tamil Nadu incident, there have been a few incidents of display of high handedness by the police in recent times during the anti-CAA protests and otherwise in the lockdown too. In the long term, increased frequency of such altercations between the police and lay populace may give rise to retributive violence that will be detrimental for the society based on peace and order.

“Never react to an evil in such a way as to augment it,” wrote the great French philosopher, Simone Weil. He could not have been more correct. Any kind of overreaction is to be avoided at this time. The need of the hour is to act before the evil of custodial violence becomes banal in India. But, instead of reacting to this unfortunate incident by blaming the police as a failed institution in entirety as has been the trend on the social media these days, we must focus on bridging the trust deficit. The police have been on the war-footing in tackling the Corona-induced crisis and we must also be thankful to them for their efforts.

Pratiksha Priyadarsini is a final year law student at Bharati Vidyapeeth Deemed University, Pune. A rank holder, Nyayshastram National Article Writing Competition. Shubham Satyam is B.Tech, Vellore Institute of Technology (VIT), he had cleared SSC CGL 2017 in his first attempt. Currently he is preparing for Civil Services Examination.

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Delhi HC asks trial court to consider Sharjeel Imam’s bail plea for relief

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The Delhi High Court has instructed a trial court to first consider former JNU student Sharjeel Imam’s application for relief under Section 436-A CrPC on the grounds that he has been in custody for 31 months following a 2019 sedition FIR, in accordance with the Supreme Court’s directive to keep sedition cases on hold.

According to Section 436-A, a person might well be released on bail by the court after serving a sentence of up to one-half the maximum allowed for the offence against him up until the end of the trial.

Imam claims that because he has been imprisoned for more than a year and a half since his arrest in February 2020 and has served more than half of the maximum sentence of three years under Section 153A (promoting hostility among religious groups), he is entitled to the advantage of being released.

A speech that Imam delivered at Jamia Millia Islamia in 2019 is the subject of a charge against him that was filed at the New Friends Colony (NFC) Police station.

Justice Anoop Mendiratta asked the trial court to consider the Supreme Court’s order keeping the offence of sedition in abeyance when deciding whether to grant the applicant’s request for default bail on Monday (September 26), while permitting him to withdraw his application for regular bail in a 2019 sedition case.

Appearing for Imam, his counsel Ahmad Ibrahim told the judge that the trial court, while dismissing his bail plea, had only made observations against him with respect to offences under Section 153A and 124A (sedition) and opined that no case was made out under other offences.

The counsel argued that the only offence which now warrants consideration of the trial court during the hearing of bail plea is Section 153A as offence of sedition has been kept abeyance.

Special public prosecutor Amit Prasad told the court that Imam’s bail plea pending before High Court may be withdrawn in entirety, as it may not be appropriate to consider the application under Section 436A CrPC in a piecemeal with reference to Section 153A of IPC.

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Delhi High Court restrains Axis Bank from substituting PS Toll Road Pvt Ltd (PSTR) as the concessionaire of the Pune Satara Toll Road Project

Tarun Nangia

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Delhi high court

The Delhi High Court has restrained Axis bank from substituting PS Toll Road Pvt. Ltd (PSTR) as a concessionaire of the Pune Satara Toll Road Project. The order authored by Justice Anup Jairam Bhambani found Axis Bank in breach of its own undertaking given before the court.

The court says Axis Bank is bound by its undertaking given to the court in February 2021 & then in March 2021 that it will not go ahead with the substitution of the concessionaire in the PS Toll Road project, without the court’s nod.

Delhi HC says Axis Bank’s undertaking was unconditional, and therefore it cannot rely upon any event under the Concession Agreement or the Substitution Agreement, to appoint a new concessionaire in the project.

PS Toll Road Pvt Ltd (PSTR), the concessionaire of the Pune Satara Toll Road project, had challenged the appointment of a new concessionaire in the project by the Axis Bank despite a stay on the process by the Delhi HC in March 2021.

PS Toll Road Pvt Ltd, in its appeal before the Delhi HC, has contended that Axis Bank was in breach of its own undertaking given before the court in 2021, that it will not finalize the bids or award the contract to a third party, thereby substituting the PS Toll Road Pvt Ltd.

Sr. Adv. Neeraj Kishan Kaul with Sr. Adv. Dayan Krishnan and Adv. Mahesh Agarwal of Agarwal Law Associates (ALA) represented PS Toll Road Pvt. Ltd.

Court has issued notice to Axis Bank and the matter will be heard on 28 September.

PS Toll Road Pvt Ltd is a subsidiary of Reliance Infrastructure Ltd. and was awarded the contract for six laning of 140 KM of stretch between Pune and Satara in Maharashtra on BOT basis. The project is now complete.

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Supreme Court: Permanent injunction cannot be sought on the basis of an unregistered agreement to sell

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Supreme Court: Permanent injunction cannot be sought on the basis of an unregistered agreement to sell

The Supreme Court in the case Balram Singh vs Kelo Devi observed and stated that a relief of permanent injunction cannot be sought on the basis of such an unregistered document/agreement to sell.
The bench comprising of Justice MR Shah and Justice Krishna Murari observed that a plaintiff cannot get the relief indirectly which otherwise he/she cannot get in a suit for specific performance.
In the present case, a suit has been filled by the plaintiff praying for a decree of permanent injunction restraining the defendant from disturbing her possession in the suit property, which was claimed on the basis of the agreement to sell of which was an unregistered agreement/document to sell on ten rupees stamp paper. The suit was dismissed by the Trial Court by the original plaintiff and refused to grant permanent injunction and allowed the counter-claim of the defendant. However, the First Appellate Court reversed the Trial Court judgment and decreed the suit. The second appeal filled by the defendant was dismissed by the High Court.
In appeal, the defendant-appellant contended that an unregistered agreement to sell is not admissible in evidence and that the suit filed by the original plaintiff was only for permanent injunction and she did not seek the relief for specific performance of agreement to sell by adopting a clever drafting as she was well aware that she would not succeed in the suit filled for specific performance on the basis of an unregistered agreement to sell. On the other hand, it was contended by the respondent-plaintiff that an unregistered document can be used for collateral purpose and therefore both, the first appellate Court as well as the High Court have rightly passed a decree for permanent injunction while considering the agreement for selling of collateral purpose for grant of permanent injunction.
The Apex Court observed, while allowing the appeal:
However, having conscious of the fact that the plaintiff might not succeed in getting the relief of specific performance of such agreement to sell as the same was unregistered, a suit was filed by the plaintiff simplicitor for permanent injunction only. In a given case, it may be true that an unregistered document can be used and/or considered for collateral purpose and at the same time, the plaintiff cannot get the relief indirectly which otherwise he/she cannot get in a suit for substantive relief, namely, in the present case filled for the relief of specific performance. Thus, the plaintiff cannot get the relief even for permanent injunction on the basis of such an unregistered document/agreement to sell, more particularly when the defendant specifically filed the counter-claim for getting back the possession which was being allowed by the learned trial Court. It has been cleverly prayed by the plaintiff for a relief of permanent injunction only and did not seek for the substantive relief of specific performance of the agreement to sell as the agreement to sell was an unregistered document and therefore on such unregistered agreement/document to sell, no decree for specific performance could have been passed. By clever drafting, the plaintiff cannot get relief.
Therefore, the court restored the Trial Court judgment dismissing the suit and allowing the counter-claim.

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Supreme Court refuses to stay EC proceedings on Shinde’s claim, ‘real’ Shiv Sena tussle

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Who is real Shiv Sena? SC leaves it to EC to decide

On Tuesday, a constitution bench of the Supreme Court allowed the Election Commission of India to go ahead and decide Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde’s claim that his faction represents the “real” Shiv Sena.
The bench comprising of Justice D.Y. Chandrachud dismissed the plea of Uddhav Thackeray camps to stay the ECI proceedings. It was argued by Mr. Thackeray that the Shinde faction was facing disqualification proceedings for defection under the 10th schedule and that the ECI should wait until the question of disqualification was decided.
The Supreme Court stated during the hearing that there was a bit of problem with Mr. Thackeray’s argument that the ECI proceedings under the Symbols Order of 1968 should be “stultified” merely because of a disqualification process against the Shinde function was pending before the Assembly Speaker.
Also, the bench comprising of Justice M.R. Shah, Krishna Murari, Hima Kohli and P.S. Narasimha stated that “we direct that there would be no stay of the proceedings before the Election Commission”.
It was observed that the Thackeray-led Maha Vikas Aghadi government had collapsed after a revolt by Mr. Shinde and the 39 other legislators against the Sena leadership.
On June 30, Mr. Shinde was sworn in as the CM along with BJP’s Devendra Fadnavis as his deputy.
The Supreme Court had referred to a five-judge bench on August 30, the plea filled by the Thackeray and Shinde-led factions raising several constitutional questions related to defection, disqualification and merger.
It was also stated that it had been asked the Election Commission Of India (ECI) not to pass any orders on the Shinde faction’s petition that it be considered the “real” Shiv Sena and be granted the party’s poll symbol.
However, the bench led by the then Chief Justice N.V. Ramana has said that the batch of petitions raise important constitutional issues which is relating to the 10th schedule of the Constitution pertaining to the disqualifications, power of the speaker and the governor, and judicial review.
It is provided by the 10th schedule of the Constitution for the prevention of defection of the elected and the nominated members for their political parties and contains stringent provisions against defection.
Earlier, it has been submitted by Thackeray faction that party MLAs loyal to Shinde can save themselves from disqualification under the 10th schedule of the constitution only by merging with another political party.
It has been contended by the Shinde group that the anti-defection law is not a weapon for a leader who has lost the confidence of his own party.

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Supreme Court Collegium Recommends To Elevate Bombay HC Chief Justice Dipankar Datta As Judge Of Supreme Court

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Supreme Court Collegium Recommends To Elevate Bombay HC Chief Justice Dipankar Datta As Judge Of Supreme Court

The Supreme Court Collegium has recommended to elevate Bombay High Court Chief Justice Dipankar Datta as a Judge of the Supreme Court.
Justice Datta is the son of a former Calcutta High Court Judge, late (J) Salil Kumar Datta and brother-in-law of Justice Amitava Roy, former Supreme Court Judge and was born in February 1965.
However, in 1989, he obtained his LL.B. degree from the University of Calcutta and was enrolled as an Advocate on November 16, 1989. Further, he worked as a Junior Standing Counsel for the State of West Bengal from May 16, 2002 to January 16, 2004 and as a Counsel for the Union of India since 1998.
From June 22, 2006., he worked as a Judge of the Calcutta High Court. On April 28, 2020., he was elevated as the Chief Justice of Bombay High Court.
He has passed several significant judgements as CJ of the Bombay High Court, including home vaccination for the bedridden and has directed a preliminary enquiry against Anil Deshmukh – Maharashtra Home Minister at the time, and an authoritative pronouncement on an illegal construction.

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Supreme Court: Notice issued on DCPCR plea challenging Juvenile Justice Act 2021 amendments making certain offences non-cognizable

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Supreme Court: Notice issued on DCPCR plea challenging Juvenile Justice Act 2021 amendments making certain offences non-cognizable

The Supreme Court in the case Delhi commission for protection of child rights v UOI observed and issued in a petition filled by the Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights (DCPCR) challenging the 2021 amendment made to the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) Act 2015 (JJ Act), which came into force on 1st September, 2022, whereby certain categories of offences against children have been made non-cognizable.
The bench comprising of Justice D.Y. Chandrachud and the Justice Hima Kohli observed, the counsel, Advocate, Mr. Preteek K Chadha appearing for DCPCR argued that the amendment sets out a less stringent standard than the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 or the unamended JJ Act.
However, the commission is challenging the 2021 Amendment to the extent it made the following categories of offences non-cognizable:
A. Using of children for drugs peddling
B. Using of children by terrorists
C. Exploitation of the child employee
D. Cruelty against the children
It was observed when the offences are non-cognizalbe, the police cannot register FIR and the investigation can commence only on the basis of a complaint filed before the concerned Magistrate.
Further, in 2021, the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Amendment Act, 2021 was passed to amend various provisions of the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015 which received the assent of the President on 07th August 2021. As the Amendement Act is yet to be notified. Thus, there are 29 Amendments carried out in the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015 by the Amendment Act, 2021.
It is stated that Section 26 of the Amendment Act categorizes serious offences i.e., offences with an imprisonment for a term of three years and above, but not more than seven years as non-cognizable offence. Such offences include sale and procurement of children, employment of children for child begging, exploitation of child employee, giving intoxicating liquor or narcotic drug to a child, etc.
It is argued by the commission that such categorization violates Article 14 and 21 of the Constitution of India and also various other international obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child for which India is a signatory. However, such categorization is contrary to the scheme of the Juvenile Justice Act which is progressive in nature and protects children against all forms of exploitation.
Before the Court, it was argued that the categorization is also contrary to the general scheme of IPC wherein offences punishable with imprisonment for more than three years are categorized as Cognizable whereas offences are punishable with imprisonment for up to three years as non-cognizable offence. Consequently, there is no reasonable justification or rational nexus sought to be achieved by reclassifying the cognizable offences as non-cognizable offences.
The petition stated that on 08.04.2022, it is mentioned that five State Commissions for Protection of Child Rights representing the States and Union Territories of Chandigarh, Delhi, Punjab, Rajasthan and West Bengal in exercise of their powers vested under Section 15 of the Commissions for Protection of Child Rights Act, 2005 recommended to the Government of India that a Bill be tabled in the Parliament for further amending the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015 in order to restore the cognizability status of the serious offences under the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015. It is stated by DCPCR that no such response has been received from the Central Government on the recommendations.
Against this backdrop, the plea has been filled seeking a declaration that declaring the amendment to Section 86 of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015 by way of Section 26 of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2021 as unconstitutional and violative of Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution of India to the extent it makes offences under the Act which are punishable with imprisonment for a term of three years and above, but not more than seven years as non-cognizable.

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