The Supreme Court has said that police atrocities are violative of the constitutional mandate of protection of life and liberty and not resisting them amounts to erosion of the rule of law.
“Tolerance of police atrocities… would amount to acceptance of systemic subversion and the erosion of the rule of law,” said the apex court bench of Justice P. Sathasivam and Justice B.S. Chauhan Friday.
“Therefore, illegal regimes have to be glossed over with impunity, considering such cases of grave magnitude,” said Justice Chauhan.
“The state must protect victims of torture and ill-treatment, as well as the human rights defender fighting for the interest of the victims, giving the issue serious consideration for the reason that victims of torture suffer enormous consequences psychologically,” the judges said in a judgment.
The state must ensure prohibition of torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of any person, particularly at the hands of any state agency or police force, the judgment said.
“The right to life has rightly been characterised as ‘supreme’ and ‘basic’; it includes both so-called negative and positive obligations for the state,” the court said.
“The negative obligation means the overall prohibition on arbitrary deprivation of life,” the judgment said.
The apex court said this while upholding the Punjab and Haryana High Court’s verdict by which it dismissed appeals by six policemen challenging their conviction and sentencing by the trial court in an abduction and killing case.
The trial court awarded life imprisonment to two policemen and seven-year imprisonment each to four others for killing Jaswant Singh Khalra in 1995, during the Punjab militancy.
Khalra was the general secretary of the human rights wing of the Shiromani Akali Dal.
Khalra had been working on alleged abduction and killing of youths in Amritsar and Taran Taran districts by Punjab Police.
“Police atrocities are always violative of the constitutional mandate, particularly, Article 21 (protection of life and personal liberty) and Article 22 (person arrested must be informed about the grounds of detention and presented before a magistrate within 24 hours). Such provisions ensure that arbitrary arrest and detention are not made,” judgment said.
The apex court justified the high court enhancing the sentence of four convicted policemen from seven years to life imprisonment.
“The court cannot be a silent spectator where the stinking facts warrant interference in order to serve the interest of justice… if the court remains oblivious to the patent facts on record, it would tantamount to failure in performing its obligation under the law, the judgment said.
In the case of custodial deaths, the “onus to prove contrary is on the police authorities. Law requires for adoption of a realistic approach rather than narrow technical approach in cases of custodial crimes”, the judges said.