On the face of it, the Supreme Court ruling that CCTV cameras be installed in the offices of all investigating agencies such as the CBI and NIA is a major step towards police accountability. A three-judge Bench headed by Justice Rohinton Nariman ruled on Wednesday that states and Union territories should ensure that CCTV cameras are installed at all entry and exit points, main gate, lock-ups, corridors, lobby and reception area as these investigating agencies carry out interrogation in their offices.
The Bench also ruled that recordings of the CCTV cameras would be made available to anyone who complains of custodial torture and human rights violation. The SC ruling should go a long way in bringing transparency and openness in the offices of these agencies where suspects are questioned and often mentally tortured, if not physically abused. But in reality, that may not be the case.
In 2018, the apex court had passed a similar judgment, ordering the installation of CCTVs at all police stations to check human rights abuses. But this has hardly stopped custodial abuse and deaths, as the case of P Jeyaraj and his son Bennicks in Tamil Nadu this year underlined. The duo was arrested during the national lockdown in June and two days later, they died while in police custody.
Their only crime was that they, perhaps to earn a few rupees more to tide over the lockdown-induced losses, allegedly kept their shop open during the curfew hours. The police and governments have repeatedly managed to stonewall any attempt to curb human rights violations and abuse, leaving even the courts exasperated.
While passing its order on Wednesday, the Justice Nariman-led Bench pointed out that till November 24 this year, only 14 states had filed compliance affidavits and action taken reports on the exact position of the CCTV cameras in each police station.
But it would be wrong to blame only the executive and the cops for the continued excesses. With the wheels of justice excruciatingly slow, the judiciary is equally to blame, leading to a declining faith in the system. Only prompt disposal of cases can perhaps act as a deterrent.