Calcutta High Court orders CID inquiry into one year-old custodial deaths

As per the petition, four men were found dead in judicial custody between July 30 and August 2 last year in the Baruipur sub-division of the South 24 Parganas district in West Bengal.

A division Bench of the Calcutta High Court comprising Chief Justice T. S. Sivagnanam and Justice Hiranmay Bhattacharya on Tuesday passed a significant order in a public interest litigation filed by the Association for Protection of Democratic Rights (APDR), a non-governmental organisation, in a case involving the custodial deaths of four persons.

Allegations in the writ petition

As per the petitioner, four men were found dead in judicial custody between July 30 and August 2 last year in the Baruipur sub-division of the South 24 Parganas district in West Bengal. The petitioner alleged that Abdul Rajjak Dewan, aged 34 years, resident of Kurali village; Jiyaul Laksar, aged 36 years, resident of Ghutiari village Subhas Pally; Saidul Munshi, aged 33 years, resident of Santoshpur; and Akbar Khan, aged 40 years; were all allegedly tortured and killed by the state authorities while they were in judicial custody.

In the writ petition, serious allegations have been levelled against the respondent state authorities. Dewan was arrested by the Baruipur police station on July 24, 2022 and was produced before the chief judicial magistrate, Baruipur. However, on July 30, his family was informed about his death.

Laksar went missing on July 25, 2022 and later his family found out that he was in judicial custody. On July 26, he was produced before the chief judicial magistrate, Baruipur. On August 2, 2022, his family was informed that he was sick. When they reached the Baruipur hospital, the writ petition alleges that they saw that he was “beaten with wooden sticks while his hands were tied with the bed and boiling water had also been poured on his body.” According to the postmortem report attached to the writ petition, as many as 26 injuries were noted on his dead body.

Munshi was arrested by the Mahestala police station on August 2, 2022 and, thereafter, taken to the Vidyasagar hospital. When his family reached the hospital, the petition alleges that it “discovered him lying on urine covered bruises on the whole body but he was alive at that time without any treatment (sic).” The doctors attending him suggested that he be taken to the intensive care unit, but the police denied the permission for the same. As a result, he died due to injuries that he had suffered.

Khan, according to the petition, was missing for 10–12 days; then on August 2, 2022, his family was informed by the Bishnupur police station that he was dead. The postmortem report noted as many as 18 injuries on his dead body.

During the court hearing on Tuesday, the counsel for APDR, advocate Kaushik Gupta, stated that about ₹3 lakh had been paid to each of the victims’ families “so that they can keep their mouth shut”. He reminded the court of the ratio laid down by the Supreme Court in its judgment in D.K. Basu & Anr versus State of West Bengal & Anr (1996), in which it was held that the custodial death of a person violates their fundamental rights, and is against the law.

The Bench responded by telling the State, “You should not be protecting your officers.”

The petition had also cited Rule 71 of the Nelson Mandela Rules (that is, the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners) as per which the prison director shall report, without delay, any custodial death, disappearance or serious injury to a judicial or other competent authority that is independent of the prison administration and mandated to conduct prompt, impartial and effective investigations into the circumstances and causes of such cases. In the instant case, the prison authorities did not report the matter to any concerned authorities.

The division Bench passed the following order:

It is almost a year since the incident occurred and till date there has been no appreciable progress in the investigation and wrongdoers have not been brought to book. Therefore, prima facie, we are of the view that the State police who are currently investigating into the matter have failed to make the required progress. Considering the sensitivity of the matter, we direct … the directorate general of police, West Bengal to immediately transfer all the four cases to CI. and the CID should take up the matters for investigation and file an action-taken report on the next date of hearing.”

The matter has been listed for 19 June for the next hearing.

Click here to view the Calcutta High Court’s order in Association for Protection of Democratic Rights & Anr versus Government of West Bengal & Ors.