When you have police officers who abuse citizens, you erode public confidence in law enforcement. That makes the job of good police officers unsafe.” The statement of contemporary American activist-historian Mary Frances Berry about policing aptly sums up the malaise afflicting the police system in India. The Supreme Court’s order directing the installation within six months of CCTVs with night vision cameras in each police station, besides the offices of central probe agencies such as the CBI, ED and NIA, is a much-awaited reform which must be welcomed.
The police in India inherited brutality from the colonial administration that used them as a tool to suppress the freedom movement. But unfortunately, even seven decades after the end of the Raj, custodial torture and death appear to be the norm. According to data shared by the Ministry of Home Affairs with Parliament, almost five persons died daily in custody during 2019-20. Between April 1, 2019, and March 31 this year, 1,697 people died in custody — 1,584 in jail and 113 in police custody. This is mainly due to the fact that the police are not trained enough in modern interrogation techniques and the use of forensic science to gather evidence to prove the guilt of the accused during trial. They often find it easier to use third-degree torture to extract a confession from the accused even though it may not withstand judicial scrutiny.
Now, the top court has said that CCTV footage/data should be preserved for at least six months, and the victim has a right to have the same secured in case of violation of his human rights. Once implemented, it would herald a paradigm shift in policing in India, pushing the police towards scientific investigation. Ideally, such a move should have come from the government, which often cries foul about judicial overreach. Now that the court has ordered it, the government must implement it in letter and spirit as it concerns the right to life and liberty guaranteed under the Constitution. This is all the more important because nothing substantial was done since the first order was passed on April 3, 2018.