New Delhi: 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
"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.