With 80 reported custodial deaths in Gujarat in the last five years, the functioning of the state police administration under the BJP-led government has come under the scanner. In 2022 alone, Gujarat reported the highest number of custodial deaths, with 24 such tragic incidents, a sharp rise from 12 such loss of lives in 2019-20 and 13 in 2018-19. The accused were found to have died due to a variety of reasons, including alleged police torture and the lack of timely medical treatment.
Custodial death figures, as released by the Gujarat Law Commission, is a major human right violation index and indicates abuse of power by the government mechanism. Gujarat tops the country in the number of such deaths, which is a clear indictment of the inhumane functioning of the police system in the state that calls for urgent reformation and accountability.
The report underlines that the cases of custodial deaths in Gujarat are a matter of grave concern and a substantial breach of human rights.
The Commission report unequivocally states that police personnel in the state have been frequently accused of abusing their power and acting as predators rather than protectors of the people.
Congress spokesperson Dr Manish Doshi called for a neutral and transparent investigation to maintain public faith in the judiciary. He stressed the necessity of strict enforcement of human rights laws to ensure the respect and protection of human rights. Doshi also emphasised that the responsibility for safeguarding human rights and promoting their well-being lies squarely with the state government in a democracy.
Continuous reform of the police system is imperative to prevent custodial deaths, he said, describing it as a constitutional obligation.
The report has revealed that there are no CCTV cameras in 130 police stations across Gujarat. The Supreme Court had issued a directive in a judgment from July 24, 2015, ordering the installation of cameras in these stations. However, it is alarming to note that the order has not been followed, and these cameras remain absent. The installation of CCTV cameras could have played a pivotal role in deterring human rights abuses and maintaining discipline within the police force. In many cases, even where CCTV cameras are installed, they are not operational, further complicating matters.
The sharp rise in custodial deaths during the pandemic in 2021-22 raises serious questions about the state’s approach to human rights and police conduct, pointing towards the inefficiency and even possible complicity of the state home department.