Delhi HC sentences five police officers to ten years rigorous imprisonment for custodial torture leading to death of a 26-year-old man

In a case where a 26-year-old man lost his life due to torture in custody, the Delhi High Court upheld the conviction awarded by the trial court and sentenced five cops to rigorous imprisonment of 10 years. The court referred to the Supreme Court guidelines in the landmark Dilip.K. Basu versus State of West Bengal & Ors (1997) case. It also reiterated that in cases of custodial death by police torture, direct ocular evidence of the complicity of the police personnel is rarely available, and it is logical to expect that the colleagues of the guilty policemen would prefer to remain silent and even pervert truth or feign ignorance in the matter.

ON June 26, a Delhi High Court division Bench of Justices Mukta Gupta and Anish Dayal upheld the Order of a trial court sentencing five police officials in Uttar Pradesh (UP) to rigorous imprisonment for 10 years for the custodial death of a 26-year-old man named Sonu.

Background of the case

A first information report (FIR) was registered by Sonu’s father Dalbir Singh on September 2, 2006, against five police officers under Section 302 (punishment for murder) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) at the Sector 20 police station, Noida.

According to the father, on September 1, 2006, the Noida police dressed in civilian clothes took Sonu from their village in Khurja.

Also read: D.K. Basu case: Supreme Court seeks comprehensive note on enhancing safeguards in custodial violence

The next day, Sonu’s father received information from the Khurja Dehat police station that his son had committed suicide at the Sector 20 police station.

When the father reached the place of the postmortem along with his co-villagers, he saw injuries on the body of Sonu, including a burn mark near his ear.

The father strongly suspected that the police had murdered his son after torturing him and that his death was being given the colour of suicide.

In the chargesheet filed by the Crime Branch, Criminal Investigation Department, it was stated that the five police officers, in connivance with another accused (Kunwar Pal Singh), took Sonu out of his house in connection with an alleged robbery case that took place in August 2006.


Sonu used to work with Kunwar Pal Singh, who was a property dealer.

An FIR was registered at the Sector 39 police station for the alleged commission of a robbery by three persons on August 2, 2006. In the list of robbed items, two mobile phones were mentioned. 

As per the claims of the appellants, on August 30, the investigating officer (IO), inspector Kunwar Pal Singh (not to be confused with the accused property dealer of the same name), met with Vinod Kumar Pandey, who was a part of the special operations group (SOG). Pandey informed Singh that one of the stolen mobile phones, a Nokia 1100 model, had been put on surveillance and was found to be using a certain SIM card. 

Inspector Kunwar Pal Singh, along with two other convicted officers, purportedly received secret information that the stolen phone was with Sonu, who had committed the robbery along with his friends.

Kunwar Pal Singh, the property dealer, along with the five convicted police officers, apprehended Sonu on the pretext of wanting him to show a property for sale. The police officers brought him to the police chowki, Nithari, Sector 31, Noida in their private vehicle on September 1.

Sonu was later lodged in the locker of the Sector 20 police station on September 2 instead of the Sector 39 police station. According to the convicted officers, Sector 39 lockup was burnt down as a result of a fire in the last week of August, 2006. But no proof of the burning of the Sector 39 lockup was produced.

As per the judgment, there was an alleged delay of eight hours in bringing Sonu to the Sector 20 lockup. 

According to the convicted officers, the delay was on account of the police party having to make a detour to raid various locations disclosed by Sonu. Allegedly, Sonu had told the police party that his associates were staying in these locations. However, no evidence of any such raids could be produced in the court.

According to the chargesheet: “Due to false implication in a robbery case and on account of atrocities caused by the police, [and the consequent] physical and unbearable mental stress, Sonu allegedly committed suicide and was found hanging in the lockup.

Further, Kunwar Pal Singh (property dealer) was found involved with the police officials in torturing Sonu due to his interest in the transaction of the commission of property deals. 

Order of the trial court

In 2011, the Supreme Court transferred the case to a sessions court in Delhi after observing that the manner in which the investigation was conducted showed that a free and fair trial would not be possible within UP as the accused persons were members of the UP police force.

Also read: Custodial death in Chennai: How collusion of institutions contributes to impunity

By an Order dated March 20, 2019, a sessions court in Delhi sentenced five police officers— Hindveer Singh and Mahesh Mishra to ten years of rigorous imprisonment under Sections 304 read with 34  (acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention) of the IPC; Pradeep Kumar to five years of rigorous imprisonment under Section 220 (trial for more than one offence) of IPC; Pushpender Kumar and Haripal Singh to three years of rigorous imprisonment under Section 365, IPC (kidnapping or abduction with intent secretly and wrongfully confine a person) read with Sections 34 and 167, IPC (public servant framing an incorrect document with intent to cause injury) respectively. 

Kunwar Pal Singh (property dealer) was convicted for the offence under Section 365 read with Section 34, IPC. The trial court acquitted Pandey because he was not a part of the police party that went to Sonu’s house.

Appeals were filed by the accused persons against the Order. A plea was also filed by Sonu’s father for converting the convictions for offences punishable under Section 304 IPC (death by negligence) to 302 IPC (murder).

Analysis of the high court

Recalling pertinent facts of the case, the high court stated that the five police officers, including three personnel of the SOG, converged for the purpose of finding Sonu. They first located the residence of Kunwar Pal Singh (property dealer), who led them to the residence of Sonu.

None of them were in uniform nor did they disclose their identity as police officers.

In connection with the alleged robbery FIR against Sonu, the IO (inspector Kunwar Pal Singh) submitted that he had not found any evidence against Sonu.

As per the claim of inspector Kunwar Pal Singh: “[He] had not authorised anyone to arrest Sonu nor was he present at the time of his arrest and had never met him prior to his death.”

The circumstances, therefore, in which Sonu was arrested and taken by the police are unambiguously suspicious and mired in serious doubts,” the court concluded in the context of Sonu’s arrest.

The court further pointed out that even though the SOG may have the authority to arrest any suspect, it is “evident that the arrest of Sonu was without informing the IO.”

The court said: “Needless to state that in the event the police were indeed arresting Sonu as per a robbery FIR, there was no reason for such deception to be employed … without the IO of the robbery FIR.”

The court concluded: “These sequence of events form the basis of a strong foundational circumstance against the accused, buttressing the case of the prosecution.

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

Further, the court stated that the extraordinary delay of eight hours to travel from Khurja to the Noida police station has been the biggest discrepancy in the case.

There is no evidence on record to suggest that the police party raided various places in response to the alleged disclosure of Sonu.

The long time taken from the arrest to the lodging in the Sector 20 [police station] creates a plausible circumstance against the accused, and supports the case of the prosecution,” the court averred. 

The court also found that there are glaring discrepancies in the testimonies of police officers post lodging of Sonu in the Sector 20 police station. As per the court, the circumstances relating to apprehending of Sonu are highly suspicious because all the police officers who ought to be available at the police station had refused to acknowledge their presence at the time when Sonu was brought in. 

The court said: “All police personnel present that night belonging to the Sector 20 police station were somehow stretching themselves hard to disclaim their presence at the time post lodging of Sonu by the accused police team.”

It is, therefore, completely clear that conduct of all these police officials refusing to acknowledge their presence after the lodging of Sonu or around that time, leads to a conclusion that the situation in the police station at that time was not fine,” it further noted.

The court also acknowledged that Sonu was not medically examined before being sent to the lockup. According to the defence of the convicted officers, Sonu was medically fit. This was also purportedly corroborated by some of Sonu’s inmates. 

However, the court found “serious discrepancy” in the record of the number of inmates who were in the lockup with Sonu. 

There was also “serious discrepancy” between injuries recorded in the inquest report and the post-mortem report. The latter report confirmed that the injuries were possible by beating with a hard and blunt object. 

The court noted: “However, what was termed as electrocution or burn mark injuries near the ears by the inquest report, the post-mortem doctor classified such injuries as a ligature mark.

It also noted that there is no explanation for the black or blue marks and burn marks on Sonu’s body. “It is hard to accept that the deceased committed suicide and then sustained such injuries during the process of being saved by trained police personnel,” the court remarked.

Lastly, the high court found serious manipulations in the testimonies, many of which could not even be corroborated.

The convicted police officers claimed that Sonu, when he was apprehended, had disclosed that he handed over the phone to a resident of Khurja city. But the mobile phone in question was neither recovered nor produced during the trial.  

The court noted that the person to whom the phone was allegedly handed over, was not traced. “The investigation relating to the stolen phone Nokia 1100 and its trail ran cold.”

The court reiterated: “What had happened to the victim after his arrest or abduction by the accused persons was within the special knowledge of the accused persons and having not provided believable explanation, the court was right in drawing the presumption that the police was responsible for his [Sonu’s] abduction, illegal detention and death.

However, the court dismissed appeals filed by the complainant for conviction under Section 302 IPC. According to the court, there is no evidence to prove that the accused police officers caused injuries to Sonu with the intention that in all likelihood death will be caused.

The said sequence of events and evidence on record suggests that the deceased was subjected to custodial torture with the knowledge that it was likely to cause the death of the deceased but without any intention to cause the death,” the court opined. 

Therefore, the accused persons are held guilty of an offence punishable under Section 304 (Part I) and liable for a sentence of rigorous imprisonment of 10 years, the judgment concludes.

The Leaflet