Custodial death of minor: HC seeks status of CCTV cameras in Bengal's police stations

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Kolkata, Nov 12 (PTI) The Calcutta High Court on Thursday directed the West Bengal home secretary to submit an affidavit providing the status of CCTV cameras in all police stations of the state in connection with the custodial death of a minor boy in Birbhum district last month.

The court, which has taken suo motu cognisance of the death of the boy, observed that custodial death is one of the worst crimes in a civilised society.

The boy, who was apprehended from his house on the charge of theft, allegedly died by hanging himself in the toilet of Mallarpur police station on October 29.

The state government's counsel informed the court that, according to a police report, the CCTV camera installed at the child friendly corner of the police station, where the boy was kept, was inoperative since October 19.

Child friendly corner is a space within the premises of a police station designed and decorated in a child friendly manner and equipped with basic amenities such as drinking water and toilet.

A division bench comprising justices Harish Tandon and Soumen Sen directed the home secretary to disclose the status of child friendly corner in the police stations across the state.

In the affidavit, the home secretary will also have to inform whether all police stations have child friendly corners with proper infrastructure and SJPUs (special juvenile police unit) and/or designated child welfare police officers on or before November 25, when the matter will be taken up for hearing again.

The bench ordered that civic volunteers should not be permitted to be deployed in child friendly corners and that these shall be manned by regular SJPU as designated child welfare police officers who can be held responsible for their lapses or negligence in discharging their duties.

A civic volunteer had been deployed at the child friendly corner at Mallarpur, though a minor is required to be attended by a child welfare police officer, the bench said.

Noting that the state government's counsel could not apprise the court of the progress made in the judicial probe in this regard, the bench directed the Judicial Magistrate, 1st Court, Rampurhat, Birbhum, to submit a report in a sealed cover disclosing the progress and the findings made, on the next date of hearing.

The bench observed that a child has to be dealt with empathy and compassion is the hallmark of the juvenile justice system.

'There is lack of sensitivity in the police administration in dealing with the juvenile as manifestly seen in the instant case,' it said.

Observing that 'custodial death is one of the worst crimes in a civilised society governed by rule of law,' the bench said, 'It is high time where officials of the police administration should be sensitised to deal with a minor in conflict with the law.

The court said that the incident shocked the conscience of every responsible citizen, more particularly the irresponsible behaviour and lack of sensitivity of the police officers who have the solemn responsibility to protect the rights of a citizen and especially the right recognized and guaranteed for minors in conflict with the law.

The bench directed the Birbhum superintendent of police to ensure that child friendly corners at every police station within his jurisdiction are restored or set up within a fortnight and all facilities and arrangements including deployment of SJPUs (special juvenile police unit) are regularised and maintained.

'On the basis of the affidavit filed before us by the Superintendent of Police, Birbhum, a prima facie culpable negligence if not anything further is clearly attributable to the cause of death of the child,' the bench noted.

The court also directed the SP to indicate in his affidavit the progress made in the proceedings initiated against police officers in connection with the case. PTI AMR NN NN