By: Nimisha Mishra* |
The Supreme Court, in its latest judgment, has answered an important question “Who will police the police?” by stating that “Cameras can police the police”. A greater degree of transparency and a huge reduction in third-degree treatment by the police can be achieved through the installation of CCTV cameras in all the agencies where interrogation takes place.
It is observed that police use the easy method of extracting information through torturing and inflicting injuries on the person to make them confess or admit the crime. The custodial torture not only violates the basic human rights of a person but also encourages police to take law in their hands and deviate from the rule of law.
The Supreme Court in Paramvir Singh Saini v. Baljit Singh observed that CCTV cameras should be compulsorily installed not only in each police station but also in offices of central agencies like National Investigating Agency (NIA), Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), Enforcement Directorate (ED), Serious Fund Investigation Office (SFIO), Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB), Department of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) as well as any other offices where the interrogation is carried out. Security camera should be installed in, lock-ups, interrogation rooms, entry and exit gates, etc.
The need for ordering the installation of cameras has become a necessary measure to curb the violation of the fundamental rights of the detenue. Increasing atrocities by people with authority have raised an alarm and it is high time to take measures in order to check the legality of their actions.
The CCTV camera footage can be made available to citizens through filing an RTI and also to the judiciary, this will eventually reduce the injuries inflicted by the police in order to extract crime-related information, confession or admission of the crime.
Constitution of oversight committees at State and District level
The importance of State Human Rights Commissions and District Human Rights Courts were recognized by the top court as per Section 30 of the Human Rights Act. It was further pronounced that the injured person or family of the injured person is free to complain to any of the above commissions regarding the police torture, injuries and custodial deaths.
The court observed that there is a need for the constitution of oversight committees at State and District level for the effective implementation of the installation of CCTVs. The SHO of the specific police station shall be responsible for the working, maintenance and recording of the CCTVs. Following are the constituent bodies of oversight committee:
The State level committees should consist of:
The Secretary/ Additional Secretary at the Home Department;
Secretary/ Additional Secretary at Finance Department;
The Director-General/ Inspector General of Police; and
The Chairperson/ member of the State Women’s Commission.
The District level committees should consist of:
The Divisional Commissioner/ Commissioner of Divisions/ Region Commissioner/ Revenue Commissioner Division of the District;
The District Magistrate of the District;
A Superintendent of Police of that District; and
A mayor of a municipality within the District/ a Head of the Zilla Panchayat in rural areas.
In the case of Shafhi Mohammad v. State of Himachal Pradesh, it was directed by the Supreme Court to establish a Central Oversight Body (COB). It was also observed by the court in the case of D.K. Basu v. State of West Bengal that a Central Oversight Committee is set up in every state, a mechanism where committees will be independent to check and study CCTV footages and publish reports based on the observations made. The Centre is also required to regularly file an affidavit regarding the constitution and the workings of the Central Oversight Body.
The order of installing CCTV in police station finds its root in a case of Paramvir Singh Saini which was relating to custodial torture in Punjab. Justice R. F. Nariman reiterated that the CCTV cameras should be installed at every place possible at police stations and at the offices of investigating agencies in order to cover every corner under the watch of cameras and leave no place possible for police to inflict injury. The genesis of this order is on the demands of people to protect their rights by asking the footage of the investigation. In this way, the whole process will be more transparent and will protect the rights of citizens. He also directed that this should be implemented wholly in letter and in spirit as early as possible.
The CCTV footage can be summoned by the Human Right Commissions and Courts
The Human Rights Commissions and Courts are empowered to summon the CCTV footage from police stations in order to inspect the actions of the police. This step was taken keeping in mind various complaints being made regarding injuries inflicted by police and custodial deaths. It is a need of an hour that a safe space should be provided to the victims to complain against the atrocities committed by the police. Such complaint could be made either to the State Human Right Commission under Section 17 and 18 of Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993 the complaint could directly be made at the Human Rights Courts. The above mentioned Commission and Court have authority to immediately summon the CCTV camera footage of that specified complaint about its safekeeping, and then further forward it to the investigating agency to process the complaint.
Loopholes in the implementation
Despite various measures and orders passed by the court to make the investigation process more transparent, there are still a few loopholes present in the system which defeat the intention behind the order. They rather than following the orders, bypass it in such a way without any possibility of imposition of sanctions. One such loophole is non-working CCTV cameras, even though the cameras are installed in official places, in most of the time they are not in a working condition.
In various cases, it is observed that generally after the commission of the crime in the form of custodial torture and custodial death when the CCTV footage is asked by the court for investigation, an argument is advanced by the police side that CCTV was not working and hence no audio/ video footage is available to provide.
The Aurangabad Bench of Bombay High Court in its recent verdict said that the non-working CCTVs footage is defeating the whole purpose of installing the CCTV cameras. The bench comprising of TV Nalavade and MG Sewlikar, JJ observed that the properly working CCTVs are imperative for the effective implementation of the order and there is a pressing need for regular maintenance to ensure the proper working of the CCTVs.
The bench opined that whenever the CCTV footages are asked the police always try to evade by arguing that the CCTV camera on that particular day was not working. Such kinds of excuses cause major hindrance in providing justice to the victim and his/her family. It provides blanket protection to the police authority from the sanctions imposed against them. To curb this problem, the court proposed that an officer should be given a duty to supervise and oversee the functioning of the system along with maintaining a register where the observations of inspection could be entered every day.
Electricity and storage facility
In many parts of India, there is a huge lack of electricity and internet bandwidth facility, which cause major hindrance in the proper implementation of the order. Since for storage of data, the internet is required and in places where there is very less or no availability of internet, the order becomes a complete failure. In the areas where there are poor electricity and internet connection, other means of electricity production should be used including solar and wind power, which will facilitate the continuous supply of electricity in offices. Moreover, it has been mandated by the court that the CCTVs should be of advanced technology in order to be equipped with night vision along with audio and video footage. Apart from that, the data storage capacity should be of maximum period possible which is at least one year or 18 months. Agencies mostly conduct their interrogation in their specified offices which necessitates installing CCTV cameras at those places.
Recognizing the developing society and people’s awareness towards their rights, it is high time for the effective implementation of the order which will allow a right to people to complaint and demand for the footage recording of investigation in case of any human right violations. If properly implemented, this measure will ensure a huge reduction in custodial injuries and deaths and there is a silver lining that the basic human rights of the people will be protected.
* The author is a student at NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad.
Image source: https://odishatv.in/nation/sc-directs-centre-to-install-cctv-cameras-with-night-vision-at-cbi-nia-ed-other-probe-agencies-497623