Does your state police tell you who they have arrested?

Does your state police tell you who they have arrested?

By: Venkatesh Nayak

It’s the season for ‘surgical strikes’ again, with Lok Sabha elections due in about nine months. Two days ago, the Modi government tabled three bills in the Lok Sabha to replace the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC), the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 (IEA), and the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (CrPC). Neither the list of legislative business of the House published before the monsoon session began nor the list of business published for the day on which these bills were introduced, contained even a hint of the government’s intention to move on this front. Whose comments were sought on these bills as per the 2014 Pre-Legislative Consultation Policy is anybody’s guess.

The Bharatiya Sakshya Bill, which seeks to replace the IEA, the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita, which seeks to replace the IPC, and the Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita (BNSS), which seeks to replace the CrPC, have been referred to a Parliamentary Standing Committee for vetting. This opens up spaces for citizens and experts alike to tell lawmakers what needs to be improved in this triad of criminal laws (not to be confused with the Vedic trayi, i.e., the Rik, Yajus and Sama samhitas). The committee must suggest simpler names for these laws and recommend extensive legal literacy programmes so that the large majority of citizens unfamiliar with Sanskrit may not only pronounce them easily but also understand their content and import.

The BNSS tweaks an important safeguard against the abuse of police powers of arrest. Not many people are aware of the obligation that the current CrPC places on every police department to publish information about crime suspects who are apprehended. Every day, district police control rooms (PCRs) must display on their notice boards details such as who has been arrested, by whom, for which offence(s), when and where. The state Police Headquarters (PHQ) is required to collect and collate all this information into a database for the reference of the general public.

However, even after more than 12 years of its enactment, the implementation of this statutory provision, remains poor. In Karnataka, arrestee information is a sarkari secret. The state police website does not display this information. Kerala Police were the first to publish arrestee information on their website, district-wise, for every police station (PS) and continue to do so.

Between 2012 and 2018, I led a group at the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) India, that tried to ascertain the implementation status of this transparency requirement by making RTI interventions across 20 states and in Delhi. The Karnataka Police, like several other non-compliant police departments across the country, advised us to approach their 900+ police stations across the state to obtain arrestee information. Basic guidelines for transmitting this information from the PS to the PCR and the state Police Headquarters have not been issued yet.

In the districts of Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh and Punjab, which we toured, very few PCRs displayed arrestee information. In Punjab, entry to several PCRs was restricted on grounds of national security. This prevents people from visiting them to read from their notice boards. Based on this experience, we had advocated with the local police departments that they display arrestee information at every police station, which are more accessible to citizens.

The BNSS includes this very idea in its scheme of transparency for arrestee information. It also makes it mandatory for an officer of at least ASI rank to be entrusted with the twin tasks of maintaining an arrestee database and displaying the information at the police station. Every district PHQ will be required to collate and publish this information.

Hopefully, Karnataka Police and other non-compliant states and UTs will implement this important civil liberties safeguard when the BNSS becomes law. Read More