A total of 894 deaths in judicial custody — and 74 deaths in police custody — have been recorded in India in 2017, an RTI response to Firstpost revealed.
The letter, signed by the joint registrar (Law) of the National Human Rights Commission, stated that Uttar Pradesh leads the chart of deaths in judicial custody by a significant margin, with 204 deaths recorded in the period between 1 January, 2017 and 2 August, 2017. The state was followed by Punjab with 76 deaths and Bihar with 64 deaths.
Uttar Pradesh, however, has a history of consistently topping the charts of judicial custody deaths in the country.
Uttar Pradesh Inspector General of Police (Prisons) Pramod Kumar Mishra blamed the statistics on the high number of prisoners registered in the state's prisons. "We have over 95,000 inmates in our jails, which is way more than the number in any other state. When you count the deaths per ten thousand prisoners, I don't think we will stand out as much," he said.
"One cannot see the numbers in isolation; you have to put it in perspective. We have 22 crore people in Uttar Pradesh — you cannot compare us with Kerala which has 3.5 crore people," Additional Director General (ADG) of Uttar Pradesh Police Anand Kumar said, adding that the subject does not come directly under his jurisdiction. "I am not contesting the numbers given by NHRC, but in a populous state like Uttar Pradesh, a lot of these deaths might have also happened due to natural causes," he said.
ADG Bhushan Kumar Upadhyay of Maharashtra Police says that the numbers were worse before. "With better medical facilities, counselling sessions, and marking prisoners with suicidal tendencies, we are trying to bring the number of deaths in prisons down to a minimum," he said.
Of the 74 deaths in police custody in 2017, Maharashtra leads the tables with 16 deaths recorded until 2 August, 2017. Telangana comes a distant second with 7 deaths, while Karnataka recorded a third-highest 5 deaths in police custody this year.
A senior police official with the Maharashtra Police who wished to remain anonymous suggested that the numbers are not a cause of worry. "I don’t think the situation is particularly bad here. It can also be because of the sincerity of a police force in keeping records— we are sometimes too efficient in putting everything on paper," he said.
"Often, the numbers are misleading. Recently, our men helped a dying beggar on the streets and moved her to a hospital, but the doctor declared her dead on arrival. Now this gets recorded in the list of police custody deaths in Mumbai," he added, "Another incident involved a very sick prisoner. Since the jail was under-staffed, they [the prisons department] requested us to send a man to guard the prisoner in the hospital. When the prisoner died in the hospital due to his sickness, the death got recorded as a police custody death."
Of the 16 deaths in Maharashtra, two have been recorded in Mumbai, according to the RTI.
In July, a Dalit boy, Vinayakan, committed suicide in Kerala, allegedly after he suffered physical and mental torture in police custody— an allegation that was later confirmed in the post-mortem report. Cases like Vinayakan's open a car of worms as custodial deaths in the country often go unreported, if not unpunished.
Updated Date: Aug 23, 2017 15:23 PM