The Supreme Court on Wednesday struck a blow for police accountability and democratisation of police stations ordering all States and Union Territories (UTs) to install CCTV with night vision cameras in each and every police station across the country.
The top court also directed the Central government to install CCTV cameras at the offices of Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), National Investigation Agency (NIA), Enforcement Directorate (ED), Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB), Department of Revenue Intelligence (DRI), Serious Fraud Investigation Office (SFIO) and any other central agency office where interrogation of people is carried out.
“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/or Union Territory. In addition, the Union of India is also directed to install CCTV cameras and recording equipment in the offices of CBI, NIA, ED, NCB, DRI, SFIO and any other agency which carries out interrogations and has the power of arrest,” the Court held.
State and Union Territory Governments should ensure that CCTV cameras are installed in each and every police station.
The judgment was delivered by a Bench of Justices Rohinton Fali Nariman, KM Joseph and Aniruddha Bose in a case relating to CCTV installation in police stations and audio-video recording of crime scenes and examination of witnesses by police.
The apex court in its judgment also mandated that CCTV systems so installed “must be equipped with night vision and must necessarily consist of audio as well as video footage.”
In areas in which there is either no electricity and/or internet, it shall be the duty of the States/UTs to provide the same as expeditiously as possible using any mode of providing electricity, including solar/wind power, the Court added.
Whenever there is an incident of serious injury or custodial death in a police station, a person can complain about the same to Human Rights Courts which can then summon the CCTV footage for safe-keeping. Such footage shall be made available to the victims in the event of violation of her human rights, the court said.
Posters mentioning the same should be displayed at the entrance of police stations.
“It shall be clearly mentioned in the poster that a person has a right to complain about human rights violations to the National/State Human Rights Commission, Human Rights Court or the Superintendent of Police or any other authority empowered to take cognizance of an offence. It shall further mention that CCTV footage is preserved for a certain minimum time period, which shall not be less than six months, and the victim has a right to have the same secured in the event of violation of his human rights,” the judgment said.
CCTV systems must be equipped with night vision and must consist of audio as well as video footage
The responsibility for the working, maintenance and recording of CCTVs shall be that of the SHO of the police station concerned, the Court made it clear.
Further, in order to ensure that no part of a police station is left uncovered, the Court ordered that CCTV cameras should be installed at all entry and exit points, main gate of the police station, all lock-ups, corridors, lobby/ reception area, all verandas/ outhouses, inspector’s room, sub-Inspector’s room, areas outside the lock-up room, station hall, in front of the police station compound; outside, washrooms/ toilets, duty officer’s room, back part of the police station etc.
The case on CCTV installation was revived by Bench following an incident involving alleged custodial torture in Punjab.
Justice Nariman had appointed Senior Advocate Siddhartha Dave as Amicus Curiae and sought a report on the steps to be taken to check such violations.
The Court had also requested Attorney General (AG) KK Venugopal to assist the Bench in the matter.
In its judgment, the Court mandated that CCTV camera footage should be stored in digital video recorders and/or network video recorders. Importantly, the recording system should be such that the data stored therein is preserved for 18 months.
“If the recording equipment, available in the market today, does not have the capacity to keep the recording for 18 months but for a lesser period of time, it shall be mandatory for all States, Union Territories and the Central Government to purchase one which allows storage for the maximum period possible,” the Court clarified.
On April 3, 2018, the top court had directed that a Central Oversight Body (COB) be set up by the Ministry of Home Affairs to implement the plan of action with respect to the use of videography of crime scene during the investigation.
It was also said in that order there was a need for further directions that in every State an oversight mechanism be created whereby an independent committee can study the CCTV camera footages and periodically publish a report of its observations. The COB was further directed to issue appropriate instructions in that regard at the earliest.
However, the compliance affidavits filed by the States did not disclose details about constitution of such oversight committees, the Court noted on Wednesday.
It, therefore, ordered constitution of oversight committees at the State and district levels.
The State Level Oversight Committee must consist of:
(i) The Secretary/Additional Secretary, Home Department;
(ii) Secretary/Additional Secretary, Finance Department;
(iii) The Director General/Inspector General of Police; and
(iv) The Chairperson/member of the State Women’s Commission.
The District Level Oversight Committee should comprise of:
(i) The Divisional Commissioner/ Commissioner of Divisions/ Regional Commissioner/ Revenue Commissioner Division of the District;
(ii) The District Magistrate of the District;
(iii) A Superintendent of Police of that District; and
(iv) A mayor of a municipality within the District/ a Head of the Zilla Panchayat in rural areas.
Further, the Court also said that whenever there is information of force being used at police stations resulting in serious injury and/or custodial deaths, it is necessary that persons be free to complain for a redressal of the same.
“Such complaints may not only be made to the State Human Rights Commission, which is then to utilise its powers, more particularly under Sections 17 and 18 of the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993, for redressal of such complaints, but also to Human Rights Courts, which must then be set up in each District of every State/Union Territory under Section 30 of the aforesaid Act,” the judgment said.