PUCL Bulletin, December 2002

Tamil Nadu-
Oppose the amendment to increase the period of police custody

-- By V. Suresh, General Secretary, 6.11.2002

PUCL (Tamil Nadu & Pondicherry) views with deep concern the surreptitious introduction and passage of a bill in the Assembly to amend the Criminal Procedure Code by extending the period of police remand from 15 to 30 days. The least that the government could have done, by way of respecting democratic traditions, would have been to initiate a public debate before introducing such a bill.

The fact that this amendment was reportedly passed with 20 other bills is extremely condemnable, as it has serious implications for the liberties of citizens and far reaching consequences in giving untrammeled powers to the police. The above amendment to the Criminal Procedure Code has to be seen in the light of several other draconian measures introduced by the present government, including the enactment banning strikes in 'essential' services, the ordinance banning 'forced' conversions, and the invocation of POTA on political opponents. Together, these moves lend credence to the view that the government is hell-bent on giving a legal colour to the consolidation of a police state in Tamil Nadu.

Extending police remand is not merely a question of granting more time for investigation; it makes serious inroads into the liberties of the citizens. The standing law limits the remand period to 15 days for three reasons. First, police custody is limited in order to prevent abuses by the police, which mostly occur in this period. As the Supreme Court has put it in the case of CBI vs Anupam J. Kulkarni (1992),

"…detention in police custody is generally disfavoured by law… the scheme of [the Criminal Procedure Code] is obvious and is intended to protect the accused from the methods which may be adopted by some overzealous and unscrupulous police officers."

In the case cited above, the Court specifically rejected the government's contention that the police require additional time to investigate. Second, accused persons cannot get bail during their time in police custody. Thus, a person can be detained essentially on the whims of the police, who are not required to establish anything more than a prima facie case against them. To quote the Supreme Court in Aslam Babalal Desai vs. State of Maharashtra (1992), the 15-day limit results from "anxiety that once a person' liberty has been interfered with by the police … the investigation must be carried out with utmost urgency. … The prosecution cannot be allowed to trifle with individual liberty if it does not take its task seriously."

Third, because of the lack of bail, the detention of a person under police custody amounts to short-term preventive detention, without any of the Constitutionally prescribed safeguards. Extending it to 30 days is de facto institutionalizing preventive detention in ordinary law, without any form of public or judicial accountability. The justification for increasing the period of police custody from the present 15 days to 30 days is ostensibly to provide the police sufficient time to investigate cases.

This reason is totally unconvincing. The National Police Commission and other experts have pointed out that often the reason for police inefficiency is not lack of time but political interference, corruption, use of unfair methods, compromised investigations, incompetence and other similar reasons. Instead of rectifying any of these structural and institutional issues, successive governments have taken the shortcut of arming the police with greater repressive powers. Ultimately, the police become handy weapons of ensuring control over both political opponents and critics of the ruling regime.

It is this aspect of the amendments which seriously concerns us, for it will add to the ongoing erosion of democratic institutions and destroy the rule of law. It is reported that the above amendments have been passed by the Assembly and are awaiting the Governor's assent. This situation requires all those interested in democracy and human rights to raise their voices before it is too late. PUCL appeals to all citizens, organisations and parties to send representations to the Governor and the President of India seeking their urgent intervention to ensure that this draconian law does not enter the statute books. --

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