Jump in custodial deaths points to need for stringent legal provisions

As per the data tabled in the Lok Sabha this month, 14 custodial murders were reported in the state from 2018-2019 to 2022-2023.

Published: 29th August 2023 06:57 AM  |   Last Updated: 29th August 2023 06:57 AM   |  A+A-

custodial deaths

Image used for representational purpose only. (Express Illustrations)

Express News Service

KOCHI :  The recurring custodial murders in Kerala point to the need for strict legal provisions to prevent police atrocities. The latest in the series is the custodial death of Thamir Jifri of Tanur. Jifri was taken into custody by the DANSAF team during an anti-drug drive but he died in police custody later. The incident led to a huge public uproar and the state government has decided to hand over the probe to the CBI.

As per the data tabled in the Lok Sabha this month, 14 custodial murders were reported in the state from 2018-2019 to 2022-2023.

As per the data, three custodial death cases were registered in Kerala during 2018-19. There were two cases in 2019-20, one case in 2020-21, six cases in 2021-22 and two cases in 2022-23.  From 2018 onwards, the CBI took over the probe into six custodial death cases in Kerala involving officials of police, forest, excise and jail departments. In total, 23 officials were found accused by CBI for their involvement in the deaths of persons in custody. 

Former chief justice of Patna High Court and former chairman of State Human Rights Commission, Justice J B Koshy, said custodial death is one of the heinous crimes and there were several Supreme Court directives to prevent such atrocities. “Sadly, still people are being killed in the custody of police and other enforcement agencies. It is the primary duty of the police to ensure the safety of the person who is in custody.  We cannot say that these policemen are not aware of the rules that forbid custodial torture. They are taught about it during their training period. Here the investigation starts with a pre-set mind against a person. Subsequently, all attempts are made to create evidence against him,” he said.

Justice Koshy said that, in a majority of custodial death cases, persons are kept in illegal custody.  “I have noted that, in several custodial atrocities cases the relatives of the person taken into custody are kept in the dark. It is the primary duty of the police to inform the relative of a person about the custody and the case,” he said.

Retired SP George Joseph said that custodial deaths signal a lack of discipline in the police force. “In Tanur custodial death case, it was revealed that superior officers like the SP, DySP and circle inspector had intervened in the investigation. It is the discretionary power of an SHO to register a case and record the arrest of an accused. DySP and SP can only give direction to the SHO. If a higher officer wants to register a case, he should take charge of the police station and take further steps,” he said.

According to George, in the Varapuzha custodial murder case of 2018, it was found that a special squad named Rural Tiger Force (RTF) worked under Ernakulam Rural SP. It was illegally constituted. He asked whether the DANSAF team involved in Tanur custodial death case is any different from RTF. 

Earlier, the intelligence wing had submitted reports to the state police chief about the illegal activities of DANSAF teams. In 2021, the state special branch had alerted about DANSAF’s activities following two large quantity ganja seizures at Thiruvananthapuram.  Then it was reported that it was DANSAF personnel who abandoned the ganja.

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