Custodial violence is abhorrent, not acceptable in civilised society and is a crime against humanity, the Supreme Court said on Thursday while affirming the conviction of two police officers who were found to have mercilessly beaten a man leading to his eventual death back in 1985 (Pravat Chandra Mohanty and anr v. State of Odisha).
A Bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan and Ajay Rastogi on Thursday upheld the conviction of the two police officers for voluntarily causing grievous hurt by dangerous weapons or means under Section 324 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
While doing so, the Bench also directed them to pay Rs. 3.5 lakh to each of the legal heirs of the deceased.
“The custodial violence on the deceased which led to the death is abhorrent and not acceptable in the civilized society. The offence committed by the accused is crime not against the deceased alone but was against humanity and clear violations of rights guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution,” the Court observed.
The Court further noted that it was a matter of concern for all that the present case involved the commission of an offence by the in-charge and a Senior Inspector of a Police Station.
“The Police of State is protector of law and order. The people look forward to the Police to protect their life and property. People go to the Police Station with the hope that their person and property will be protected by the police and injustice and offence committed on them shall be redressed and the guilty be punished. When the protector of people and society himself instead of protecting the people adopts brutality and inhumanly beat the person who comes to the police station, it is a matter of great public concern. The beating of a person in the Police Station is the concern for all and causes a sense of fear in the entire society“, the judgment says.
Moreover, it was also noted that even if the Section 324, IPC was a compoundable offence at the time of the offence, the nature of the case is such that the Court cannot grant leave to compound the offence. Pertinently, the Bench pointed out that offences can only be compounded with the leave of a court under Section 320 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC).
“The present is a case where the accused who were police officers, one of them being in-charge of Station and other Senior Inspector have themselves brutally beaten the deceased, who died the same night. Their offences cannot be compounded by the Court in exercise of Section 320(2) read with sub- section (5). We, thus, reject the prayer of the appellants to compound the offence”, the Court said.
The case involved the death of one, Kasinath Naik, who had gone to the Purighat Police Station to file a complaint over an assault committed against him.
The matter took a sordid turn when two police officers at the station, Pratap Kumar Choudhury and Pravat Chandra Mohanty assaulted him instead. The Court was told that the victim was beaten mercilessly, so much so that he passed out stool and urine and started bleeding. Naik was taken to the hospital on account of the injuries inflicted on him by the policeman.
The person who had accompanied him to the police station (the informant in the criminal case) said that he was denied from going with Naik to the hospital and instead chained in the police station. By morning the next day, he came to know that Naik had passed away at the hospital.
A trial court found both policemen guilty in the criminal case registered over Naik’s death. Charges levelled against the two policemen for culpable homicide not amounting murder under Section 304 (Part II), IPC had been set aside earlier by the High Court in 2020. However, the conviction under Section 324, IPC was sustained. Before the High Court, the two accused men also volunteered to pay the victim compensation, upon which the High Court ordered the award of Rs 3 lakhs in favour of Naik’s legal representatives.
Before the Supreme Court, the policemen challenged their conviction under Section 324, IPC. The two appellants added that at the time of the offence, Section 324, IPC was a compoundable offence.
The Supreme Court first upheld the conviction of the two accused of charges under Section 324, IPC given, inter alia, that:
- The evidence of the informant cannot be discarded merely because he was an agnate (related on the paternal side) of the deceased.
- The submission that uses of a wooden lathi and a batten are not likely to cause death cannot be accepted. Wooden lathi and batten are the weapons which are usually possessed by the police. Whether the use of these weapons would cause injuries or death would depend on the manner of its use, the Court said.
However, since the two convicts were aged more than 75 years, the Court decided to reduce the sentence awarded for their conviction to six months instead of one year.
Further, the Court has also directed the payment of additional compensation of Rs 3.5 lakh to each of the legal heirs of the deceased.