The case pertains to the mysterious death of a 40-year-old man named Ashok Kumar Singh while he was under police detention. The CCTV footage of the police station is key evidence in the case.
TODAY, in a case of an alleged custodial death, a division Bench of the Calcutta High Court directed the commissioner of police, Kolkata to preserve the CCTV footage related to the incident.
The Bench, headed by the Chief Justice T.S. Sivagnanam and also comprising Justice Hiranmay Bhattacharyya, was hearing a public interest litigation in Priyanka Tibrewal versus The Union of India and Ors.
The case pertains to the mysterious death of a 40-year-old man named Ashok Kumar Singh while he was under police detention.
The PIL was filed by advocate Priyanka Tibrewal, who contested against Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee in the byelections in 2021 on a Bharatiya Janata Party ticket.
On Wednesday, the victim was summoned by police officials of the Amherst Street police station. The victim had allegedly bought a stolen mobile phone and he was called by the police in connection with the same.
It was soon discovered by the family that the man had died while he was in the Amherst Street police station.
During the hearing, the public prosecutor handed over a sealed covered copy of the postmortem report to the court along with the case diary. The public prosecutor assured the court that the postmortem had not been conducted in the presence of anybody.
The advocate Priyanka Tibrewal, who had filed the petition and had appeared in person said, “The postmortem report says he died due to brain hemorrhage. The story is that he died within 15 minutes (of his detention).I have the complete right to know what triggered it.
“A small push. A slap. A slap will not come in the postmortem report. I have no personal animosity with the police. The police said he had a conversion attack.”
She also read a paragraph from the Supreme Court’s judgment inParamvir Singh Saini versus Baljit Singh & Ors: “The state and Union territory governments should ensure that CCTV cameras are installed in each and every police station functioning in the respective state and Union territory.
“Further, in order to ensure that no part of a police station is left uncovered, it is imperative to ensure that CCTV cameras are installed at all entry and exit points; main gate of the police station; all lock-ups; all corridors; lobby and reception area; all verandas and outhouses; inspector’s room; sub-inspector’s room; areas outside the lock-up room; station hall; in front of the police station compound; outside (not inside) washrooms or toilets; duty officer’s room and back part of the police station, etc.”
The public prosecutor stated, “But he was not even an accused in any case.” He also averred that no audio of the incident is available.
Tibrewal responded, “As per the Supreme Court’s judgment, the audio and video should have been recorded. The question is what resulted in his death. The CCTV footage should be given to the forensic science laboratory.”
The public prosecutor then reminded the court that the petitioner has no locus standi as she is not a member of the family of the deceased-victim. The Bench then allowed advocate Anamika Pandey to be impleaded as a party as she was representing the family of the victim.
Advocate Anamika Pandey pleaded that the hard disk of the CCTV footage concerning the incident should be preserved.
The Bench then asked, “What to do with the body? There are cases where the court has allowed for a second or even a third postmortem. There are no external injuries. TheCode of Criminal Procedure, 1973 provides for such requests to be made by the family.”
Before closing the proceeding for the day the Bench observed, “The apprehension of the petitioner is that the CCTV footage should be kept intact and preserved and should not be tampered with and nothing should be deleted from the said footage.
“She also prays that the footage should be handed over to the registrar general of this court. In our view, at present, we do not suspect any foul play by the respondent police.”
The Bench then directed the commissioner of police, Kolkata to “ensure that the entire video footage is preserved” after transferring it into a suitable digital storage medium from which it cannot be erased.
The Bench directed that “this recording should be certified by an appropriate authority of the respondent police who will personally be held responsible in the event if it is later found out that there is any tampering or deletion of the footage.”
The Bench also made a final observation: “Considering the seriousness of the issue, we hope and trust that the respondent police will act responsibly in the matter and ensure that the footage is preserved in an appropriate manner and to be produced before this court as and when directed.”
The matter shall come up for hearing again on November 23, 2023.