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A Case Analysis Of Paramvir Singh Saini Versus Baljit Singh

The 2020 decision of the Supreme Court in the matter of Paramvir Singh Saini vs. Baljit Singh was a landmark judgment for upholding the human rights of the accused individuals and undertrial prisoners under Article 21 of the Constitution by mandating the installation of CCTVs in police stations and offices of investigative agencies. This matter is related to the question of Audio-Visual recording u/s 161 Cr.P.C. and statements under section 161(3), wherein the Hon'ble Supreme Court of India has continually tried to reduce the cases of custodial violence.

As a continuation of the Supreme Court's prior rulings in the case of Shafhi Mohammad v. State of Himachal Pradesh and D.K. Basu vs. State of West Bengal, the Supreme Court opined for the creation of Oversight Bodies and gave directions to States and UTs to ensure compliance with the Court's guidelines.

Background Information
The judgment was delivered by a 3-judge division bench, consisting of Justice R.F. Nariman, Justice K.M. Joseph, and Justice Aniruddha Bose. The decision by the Bench was unanimously held and the judgment was authored by Justice Nariman.

Ratio Decidendi
The Hon'ble Supreme Court of India observed that in the matter of Shafhi Mohammad v. State of Himachal Pradesh[1] this court had directed the Ministry of Home Affairs to establish a Central Oversight Body (COB) which will be responsible for planning, implementation, and effective use of photography and videography in the criminal investigation by the State/Union Territory Government.

And other Central Agencies considering its earlier direction in the case of D.K. Basu vs. State of West Bengal & Others[2] wherein the Court had directed installation of CCTV cameras in police stations and prisons. In view of the same, the Court held that the installation of CCTV cameras in police stations and other investigating agencies is mandatory for the credibility of statements of accused persons and to curb human rights violations by investigating officers.

Facts of the Case
This matter relates to the question of Audio-Visual recording u/s 161 Cr.P.C. and statements under section 161(3) wherein the Hon'ble Supreme Court of India has continually tried to reduce the cases of custodial violence and avoid misuse of powers bestowed upon police personnel. In the matter of D.K. Basu vs. State of West Bengal & Others[3], the Hon'ble Supreme Court had directed the installation of CCTVs inside the prison cells to protect inmates from violations of their human rights and also recommended the installation of CCTVs in police stations.

The latter recommendation was an optional one. The Hon'ble Supreme Court also held that in every State an oversight mechanism needs to be created in which an independent committee can study the CCTV camera footage and periodically publish a report of its observations thereon.

Further, the Hon'ble Supreme Court of India, in the case of Shafhi Mohammad v. State of Himachal Pradesh[4], directed that a Central Oversight Body ("COB") be set up by the Ministry of Home Affairs to implement the plan of action concerning the use of videography in the crime scene during the investigation[5]. The aforesaid COB shall issue instructions and directions regularly to ensure that the use of videography in crime scene investigation becomes a reality gradually.

The present case was filed in the form of a Special Leave petition to which was filed to examine the status of the installation of CCTVs in police stations as well as the position of compliance as per Section 161(3) of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 (CrPC) which said that any statement made to the police under this section may also be recorded by audio-visual electronic means[6]. The Court asked for all states and union territories to submit the exact position of the CCTV cameras in every police station in the territory along with the status of the creation of an oversight committee.

The Compliance Affidavits and Action Taken Reports were submitted by 14 states and 2 Union Territories, which did not even contain basic information such as the number of functioning police stations within the territory, the total number of CCTV cameras in each Police station, the working status of those CCTVs and the status of the constitution of the oversight committees or details of those which have already been created wasn't provided. Seeing such a miserable response, the Supreme Court reprimanded the States and has given certain guidelines in light of the same in the present judgment[7].

Point of Law involved
The judgment in the matter of Paramvir Singh Saini vs. Baljit Singh & Others[8] relates to a Criminal Special Leave Petition filed under Article 136 of the Constitution of India. This decision aims to protect the rights provided to the people under Article 21 of the Constitution of India. Article 21 provides the Right to Life and Personal Liberty[9].

Though it does not expressly mention any provision against custodial torture, it implicitly provides a constitutional guarantee against torture, assault, or injury and thus acts as a safeguard against custodial torture and violence. This right states that no person shall be deprived of life or personal liberty except according to the procedure established by law. The directions provided by the Court in this matter aim at ensuring the fundamental rights of each citizen of India guaranteed under Article 21, and it acts as a call to action to the authorities who didn't perform any substantial work as specified in prior judgments.

The decision of the bench
The Hon'ble Supreme Court has given directions that either the Principal Secretary of the State or the Secretary, Home Department of the States/Union Territories of all States and Union Territories will file compliance affidavits within 6 weeks.

Further, all states and Union Territories have to immediately ensure the installation of CCTV cameras at different locations in every police station in their respective jurisdictions. They require to be installed at all entry/exit points of the station, all corridors, reception and lobby area, lock-ups, interrogation cells, the front and back compound of the station, and outside washrooms[10].

The CCTVs installed should necessarily have both audio and visual facilities, decent video resolution, and should be adept in providing night vision. Furthermore, the CCTV footage should be preserved for a period of a minimum of 18 months and existing CCTVs should also be upgraded accordingly if they are not capable of preserving the footage for this amount of time.

The Supreme Court also issued orders for the institution of 'Oversight Committees' at the state level, namely, State Level Oversight Committee ("SLOC") and district level, namely, District Level Oversight Committee ("DLOC") to expedite the ongoing installation and maintenance of CCTV cameras in police stations across all States and UTs.

The SLOC must consist of:

  1. The Secretary/Additional Secretary, Home Department
  2. Secretary/Additional Secretary, Finance Department;
  3. The Director General/Inspector General of Police; and
  4. The Chairperson/member of the State Women's Commission[11].

Duties of SLOC include:

  1. Directions passed by the Hon'ble SC are carried out;
  2. Purchase, distribution, and installation of CCTVs and their equipment;
  3. Obtaining the budgetary allocation for the same;
  4. Continuous monitoring of maintenance and upkeep of CCTVs and their equipment;
  5. Carrying out inspections and addressing the grievances received from the DLOC; and
  6. To call for monthly reports from the DLOC and immediately address any concerns like faulty equipment[12].

The DLOC must consist of:

  1. The Divisional Commissioner/ Commissioner of Divisions/ Regional Commissioner/ Revenue
  2. Commissioner Division of the District (by whatever name called);
  3. The District Magistrate of the District;
  4. A Superintendent of Police of that District; and
  5. A mayor of a municipality within the District/ a Head of the Zilla Panchayat in rural areas[13]

Duties of DLOC include:

  1. Supervision, maintenance, and upkeep of CCTVs and their equipment;
  2. Continuous monitoring of maintenance and upkeep of CCTVs and their equipment;
  3. To interact with the Station House Officer ("SHO") as to the functioning and maintenance of CCTVs and their equipment;
  4. To send monthly reports to the SLOC about the functioning of CCTVs and allied equipment and
  5. To review footage stored from CCTVs in the various Police Stations to check for any human rights violations that may have occurred but are not reported[14].
The Hon'ble Court has also directed all UTs and States' Finance Departments to allocate funds at the earliest for the aforementioned purposes.

The Court has also directed that every SHO would be responsible for the functioning of CCTV cameras and their recordings, and the maintenance of tamper-free CCTV data. Any malfunctioning CCTV needs to be reported to the DLOC by the SHO on an immediate basis.

To curb human rights violations within offices of investigative agencies, the persons can complain against the same and the CCTV footage can be obtained as proof of the same. The Court has held that such complaints can be made both to the State Human Rights Commission ("SHRC") which utilizes Sections 17 and 18 of the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993, for redressal of such complaints, and to Human Rights Courts, which require to be set up in each District of every State/Union Territory under Section 30 of the aforesaid Act.

The Hon'ble bench further ordered the Centre to submit full details of the constitution and working of the COB, and ensure the installation of CCTV cameras and appropriate recording equipment at other strategic points including interrogation rooms and offices of agencies under the control of the Centre, namely the NIA, CBI, ED, DRI, NCB, SFIO, and "any other agency which carries interrogations and has the power of arrest." [15] All police stations and the specified agencies need to prominently display the coverage of the concerned premises by CCTV through posters in "English, Hindi and vernacular language"[16].

It will also specify that a person can register a complaint about human rights violation to the "National/State Human Rights Commission, Human Rights Court of the Superintendent of Police or any other authority empowered to take cognizance of an offence"[17] and that the CCTV footage is preserved for a minimum of 6 months and can be obtained in the event of human rights violation.

Analysis of the decision
This Supreme Court judgment has mandated the installation of CCTV cameras in cross-examination centres with the aim to strike at the heart of police ruthlessness and the potential brutality and torture inmates may face during custody. It gives clear rules concerning where and how the CCTVs require to be set up. It is presumably the proudest moment for all firm believers of the Indian Constitution and is a striking record in recovering civil liberties, which had been stomped on by the might of the State.

The judgment places utmost significance on ensuring that civil rights are secured and the abominations of custodial torture and custodial death are nipped in the bud. This judgment is significant in bestowing greater authority to Human Rights Commissions with explicit direction to follow up on any objection against police authorities and give the wronged a legitimate cure. The judgment follows the principles of Natural Justice when it gives the right to the complainant to be qualified to obtain a duplicate of the CCTV footage of the alleged incident.

This decision places basic liberties and ideals on a steadfast platform and is an astounding record in recovering these freedoms. Furthermore, the question of principal significance for citizens is that the sentinel on the qui vive is awake and alert, unswerving and unafraid[18].

Brief summation
The Hon'ble Supreme Court of India observed that in the matter of Shafhi Mohammad v. State of Himachal Pradesh[19] this court had directed the Ministry of Home Affairs to establish a Central Oversight Body (COB) which will be responsible for planning, implementation, and effective use of photography and videography in the criminal investigation by the State/Union Territory Government and other Central Agencies considering its earlier direction in the case of D.K. Basu vs. State of West Bengal & Others[20] wherein the Court had directed installation of CCTV cameras in police stations and prisons.

In the instant case, the Hon'ble Supreme Court took note of the status of compliance by the Authorities of the aforesaid directions and further directed that apart from COB, State Level Oversight Committees (SLOC) and District Level Oversight Committees (DLOC) be set up to ensure compliance and oversee videography contents apart from filing periodic reports thereon.

It further specified that certain Government Officials compulsorily need to be members of SLOC and DLOC and also broadly specified the duties and obligations of these bodies and Station House Officer with regard to installation, maintenance, periodic inspection of videography equipment, addressing the grievances, and filing periodic reports on functioning thereof. The Court included in DLOC duties to review videography contents to check violations of human rights. The Court further directed for mandatory CCTV installation in all investigating agencies such as CBI, NIA, etc.

Specifying the appropriate places for installation & periodicity of the contents storage and also directed that there should be a notice of CCTV coverage at the entrance and inside of all such Police Stations/investigating agencies by way of posters, etc. in English, Hindi, and vernacular languages.

The judgment of Paramvir Singh Saini vs. Baljit Singh & Others[21] sets an important precedent by making the installation of CCTV cameras in police stations and offices of investigative authorities mandatory. This will secure the Indian people the right to live a dignified life and will protect under-trial prisoners and those in police custody from custodial torture.

Further, provision has been made for preserving the footage of the CCTV footage for its use by investigating agencies to ensure no torture and physical abuse during the investigation. The judgment also specifies the authorities to which such an individual can register a complaint. It was high time that such a decision was passed by the Supreme Court with the aim of protecting the people from the menace of custodial torture.

End-Notes:
  1. (2018) 5 SCC 311.
  2. (2015) 8 SCC 744.
  3. D.K. Basu Vs. State of West Bengal & Others, (2015) 8 SCC 744.
  4. Shafhi Mohammad v. State of Himachal Pradesh, (2018) 5 SCC 311.
  5. Paramvir Singh Saini v. Baljit Singh, (2021) 1 SCC 184
  6. Criminal Procedure Code, 1973, � 161, No. 3, Acts of Parliament, 1973 (India).
  7. Mohammad Adil Ansari, Case Study: Paramvir Singh Saini v Baljit Singh & Ors, LEGAL WIRES (Oct. 23, 2021, 7:59 PM), https://legal-wires.com/case-study/case-study-paramvir-singh-saini-v-baljit-singh-ors/.
  8. (2021) 1 SCC 184.
  9. India Const. art. 21.
  10. Supra note 3
  11. Supra note 3.
  12. Supra note 3.
  13. Supra note 3.
  14. Supra note 3.
  15. Supra note 3.
  16. Supra note 3.
  17. Supra note 3.
  18. Neeleshwar Pavani, Remarkable Judgment that Reclaims Human Rights by Use of CCTV in Interrogation, THE LEAFLET (Oct. 25, 2021, 5:59 PM), https://www.theleaflet.in/remarkable-judgment-that-reclaims-human-rights-by-use-of-cctv-in-interrogation/.
  19. Supra note 2
  20. Supra note 3.
  21. Supra note 9.

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