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Government faces HC fire over custodial deaths

The Bombay High Court said it was “appalled by Maharashtra government’s “lack of political will” to put an end to custodial deaths and the state seems to be a “consensual party” to such incidents.

A division bench of Justices V M Kanade and Shalini Phansalkar-Joshi said it was appalled by government’s “insensitivity” and “lack of political will” to address this problem.

The Judges made the stinging observations while hearing a bunch of petitions, including a PIL, on the increasing number of custodial death cases in the state.

“When we heard the matter for the first time we said the government should take steps to put an end to this. But it is still happening. In fact, incidents of custodial deaths have increased. What can the judiciary do when the executive is so insensitive?” Justice Kanade said.

“Despite such deaths taking place in custody, the entire machinery is insensitive and turning a blind eye as though it is not happening. The state seems to be a consensual party. We are appalled by the government’s insensitivity and lack of political will to address this problem. The government does not seem to be bothered and is silent towards this menace of custodial deaths,” the Court said.

The bench expressed displeasure over the government’s failure to comply with its January order, asking it to initiate steps to install CCTVs in all police stations.

“The government has not yet even filed an affidavit saying what steps it has taken so far. We feel that even if CCTVs are installed, police will come up with excuses that the cameras are not working. The mindset needs to be changed.”

It noted that though officers are prosecuted in custodial death cases, they are generally acquitted. “In the last 15 years, there has not been a single conviction in a custodial death case. If they are punished, then it will act as a deterrent,” the bench maintained.

The HC, which fixed October 21 for next hearing, has sought suggestions from petitioners’ advocates Yug Choudhary and Mihir Desai on how to tackle the issue.

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