New Delhi, 6 November 2011. The Supreme Court on Friday expressed serious concern over fake encounters and said “tolerance of police atrocities would amount to acceptance of systemic subversion and erosion of the rule of law.”
Upholding life sentence awarded to four police officers who were responsible for the kidnap and killing of a human rights activist, a Bench of Justices P. Sathasivam and B.S. Chauhan said: “Police atrocities are always violative of the constitutional mandate, particularly, Article 21 [protection of life and personal liberty] and Article 22 [person arrested must be informed the grounds of detention and produced before a Magistrate within 24 hours].”
Writing the judgment, Justice Chauhan said: “Such provisions ensure that arbitrary arrest and detention are not made.
Police atrocities in India have always been a subject matter of controversy and debate. In view of the provisions of Article 21 of the Constitution, any form of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment is inhibited.”
The Bench made it clear that torture was not permissible “whether it occurs during investigation, interrogation or otherwise. The wrongdoer is accountable and the state is responsible if a person in custody of the police is deprived of his life except in accordance with the procedure established by law.”
The Bench said: “When the matter comes to the court, it has to balance the protection of fundamental rights of an individual and duties of the police. It cannot be gainsaid that freedom of an individual must yield to the security of the state. The state must protect victims of torture, ill-treatment as well as the human rights defender fighting for the interest of the victims, giving the issue serious consideration for the reason that victims of torture suffer enormous consequences psychologically.”
The Bench said: “The state must ensure prohibition of torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment to any person, particularly at the hands of any state agency/police force. Torture and custodial death have always been condemned by the courts in this country. In a given case if there is some material on record to reveal the police atrocities, the court must take stern action against the erring police officials in accordance with law.”
In the instant case, five police officers Prithipal Singh, Satnam Singh, Surinderpal Singh, Jasbir Singh and Amarjit Singh were awarded seven years’ imprisonment by a trial court in Punjab for the kidnap and murder of Jaswant Singh Khalra in 1995. On appeal from the victim’s wife for enhancement of the punishment, the Punjab and Haryana High Court, while acquitting Amarjit Singh, awarded life sentence to the other four. The present appeal by the four convicts is directed against this judgment.
Dismissing the appeal, the Bench agreed with the submissions of Additional Solicitor-General Mohan Jain that there were concurrent findings of facts by two courts that all the appellants were guilty of abducting Jaswant Singh Khalra with intent to eliminate him.
The Bench said: “The findings so recorded are based on appreciation of evidence. In a case where the person is alleged to have died in police custody, it is difficult to get any kind of evidence. Rarely in cases of police torture or custodial death, is direct ocular evidence available of the complicity of the police personnel, who alone can explain the circumstances in which a person in their custody had died. Bound as they are by the ties of brotherhood, it is not unknown that police personnel prefer to remain silent and more often than not even pervert the truth to save their colleagues.” In such cases, corroborative evidence or sole testimony of a witness would be sufficient to hold the accused guilty of the offence, the Bench held.