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Police harassment in Kerala: How, where to file a complaint against cops; is it legal to record police action?

Do you know the Kerala Police has no right to prevent public from lawfully making video record of any action or activity? Here is how citizens can deal with police highhandedness legally.

Published: 07th September 2021 06:21 PM  |   Last Updated: 08th September 2021 02:48 PM   |  A+A-

Kerala Police

Image used for representational purpose (Photo | BP Deepu, EPS)

Online Desk

Instances of police high-handedness and harassment of civilians have gone up following the pandemic-enforced lockdown and restrictions. Complaints of police personnel on duty imposing unnecessary fines and dumping products of roadside sellers for allegedly breaking Covid norms had caused a public outcry across Kerala. A few weeks ago, a teenage girl was booked for obstructing officials from discharging duty. Her mistake was that she questioned a police team for taking action against an elderly man who was standing in a bank queue. More recently, a team of Pink Police came under fire for publicly humiliating a father-daughter after accusing them of stealing an officer's mobile phone which was later found in the bag of the officer itself.

Is it illegal to record police action?

Police rudeness like in the above-mentioned cases has come under increased public scrutiny owing to social media. Videos shot by victims or bystanders are later released via media outlets or social media accounts which in turn become evidence against the guilty officers. However, in many cases, police officers are caught on camera forcefully trying to make people stop recording their actions. Do they have the right to do so? The answer is no.

The 33 Clause (2) of the Kerala Police Act states, "No Police Officer shall prevent any member of the public from lawfully making any audio or video or electronic record of any police action or activity carried out in a public or private place."

33 Clause (2) of the Kerala Police Act

Where to report police harassment?

If a person feels his/her were violated by the police, they can file a complaint with the Kerala State Human Rights Commission. In case a child or woman is included, the Kerala Child Rights Commission and Kerala Women's Commission can be reached. 

The KSHRC charges no fee on complaints and they can be filed by the petitioner directly without a legal practitioner. The Commission may in its discretion, accept telegraphic complaints and complaints conveyed through FAX or by e-mail. Complaints can also be made on the mobile telephone number of the Commission. People can reach the KSHRC at:

Kerala State Human Rights Commission
Turbo Plus Tower, PMG Junction
Thiruvananthapuram-33

Phone number: 0471 2307263
Fax: 0471 2307490
E-mail: hrckeralatvm@gmail.com 

What to do if the police isn't filing an FIR?

If Fundamental Rights are violated, a citizen of Indian can move High Court or Supreme Court directly with a private complaint.

In a case of cold response from a police station on a complaint of harassment against an officer, the public has the right to petition his/her senior, legal experts say.  

"Imagine the station officers are unwilling to put an FIR against one of their own. Under CRPC, if you file a complaint of police harassment which is a cognizable offence, to the Superintendent of Police, the officer should forward it to a DYSP to investigate the matter," an advocate at Kerala HC said.

According to noted criminal lawyer Adv CS Ajayan, the public shouldn't shy away from filing a private complaint with the Judiciary against a bad cop.

ALSO READ | Pandemic not law and order issue! Police get the stick

"Go to the criminal court and file a private complaint, that is a civilian's best bet if you ask me. If a policeman commits an offence against a person, a Magistrate has the power to order an investigation by an advocate. This appointed investigator has the power to confiscate related documents, check registers etc from a police station, if necessary. Once the investigator's report reaches the Court, it becomes evidence and the police officer can be charged if found guilty. The Human Rights Commission's intervention can be effective as well," said Adv Ajayan, who was the Special Prosecutor in the Kevin murder case.

What are the other options?

Do you know there exists a body formed to receive complaints against high-handed harassment by the police called the Police Complaints Authority? The PCA has two branches -- the District PCA functioning at every district and the State PCA. 

The complaints against officers of and below the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police (DYSP) could be made to the district-level PCA and those complaints against officers of the rank of Superintendent of Police (SP) and above could be made to the State PCA.

The district-level setup also intends to ensure the facility remains accessible to people living in different parts of the state without having to travel to the capital city.

What is Police Complaints Authority?

It was in the Model Police Act developed by the Police Act Drafting Committee (PADC) in 2006 that provisions for complaints authorities at the state and district levels were included. Later that year, the Supreme Court gave seven directives to make the police accountable for their actions and independent in functioning. The sixth directive among these ordered that Police Complaints Authorities (PCAs) be set up in all states of the country. Hence, the Kerala Police Act of 1960 was amended to establish the State PCA.

How to file a complaint with PCA?

It is quite easy for a layman to use the service of the PCA. All that needs to be done is file an official complaint with the body on a sheet of paper mentioning the name of the accused officer along with the incident in detail. There is no particular format to file a complaint with Kerala PCA while some like the state of Odisha have published a form for the purpose.

The District PCA function in the respective Collectorates. Complaints can be submitted directly at these offices or be mailed to the address:
Chairman, 
District PCA, 
District Collectorate

The complainant also needs to include the postal address of the District Collectorate concerned.

The State PCA can be reached at:
Chairman, 
State Police Control Authority
Tagore Nagar Road, Adarsh Vidyalaya, Cotton Hill, 
Vazhuthacaud, Thiruvananthapuram- 695014

What are the powers of the PCA?

Both branches of the PCA conducting inquiries and possess all the powers of a Civil Court. Hence they can ask an officer to appear before them and ask for submission of any document before them and collect required evidence. 

The Kerala Police Act states all government staff are expected to give necessary assistance to the PCA. Once the inquiry against an officer is completed, the state government is responsible to order departmental inquiry or book him/her under criminal charges, if asked by the PCA.

Powers of the Kerala PCA

What happens when PCA receives a complaint?

Sec 112 of the Kerala Police Act explains the course of action the PCA needs to follow upon receiving a complaint.

The authority can post an officer to inquire into the matter if they are satisfied with the merit of the complaint. Both the complainant and the officer have the right to present evidence strengthening their argument before the authority. 

When a complaint is lodged, the PCA will conduct a detailed inquiry by first summoning the complainant and recording a statement. Later, the officer facing the allegation will be sent a copy of the complaint to file a reply to the charges made against him/her.

The Authority can take the assistance of an investigating agency if needed and will interview witnesses, obtain evidence and information it thinks is necessary.

Who constitutes the PCA?

Sec 110 of the Kerala Police Act explains who shall be members of the PCA.

The State Authority shall consist of: 
(i) a retired Judge of a High Court who shall be the Chairperson of the Authority
(ii) an officer not below the rank of Principal Secretary to Government
(iii) an officer not below the rank of DGP
(iv) a person as may be fixed by the Government, in consultation with the Leader of Opposition, from a three-member panel of retired officers not below the rank of IG furnished by the Chairman of the State Human Rights Commission
(v) a person as may be fixed by the Government, in consultation with the Leader of Opposition, from a three-member panel of retired suitable District Judges furnished by the State Lok Ayuktha.

The District Authority shall consist of:
(i) a retired District Judge as Chairperson
(ii) the District Collector
(iii) the District SP
Provided that the Chairperson of one District Authority may be appointed as the Chairperson of more than one District Authorities.

Click here to download and read The Kerala Police Act, 2011



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