The Delhi High Court, last week, upheld the conviction of six Policemen belonging to the Special Staff of the Delhi Police for the custodial death of one Dalip Chakraborty in 1995.

Hearing the Appeals filed by the officers, the Bench comprising Justice S. Muralidhar and Justice I.S. Mehta, at the outset, referred to the Supreme Court decision in the case of D.K. Basu v. State of West Bengal, (1997) 1 SCC 416, wherein detailed guidelines were laid down to prevent instances of custodial violence.

It then lamented over the fact that not much has changed since, observing, “In the two decades since, the number of instances of custodial violence and custodial deaths in particular has not shown a decline… The past five reports of the National Human Rights Commission show that the instances of deaths in police custody have not witnessed a marked decline. None of the legislative changes recommended by the LCI have been made yet. The problem still stares at us in the face. It is in this backdrop that the Court proceeds to examine these appeals.”

With regard to the case in hand, the Court opined that the officers seemed to have raided the deceased man’s house with a specific purpose and therefore, shared a common intention in committing the act.

It then rejected the challenge to their conviction under Section 34 (common intention) of the Indian Penal Code, explaining, “A specially trained police force, which is called Special Staff, is obviously a carefully chosen team of competent police officers who are fully trained in interrogation and investigation cells. When such team is assembled in order to conduct a raid, the team is aware of the purpose for which it is being sent. There has to be some element of pre-planning.

Although the individual members of such team may not be precisely told where they have to go, as trained policemen they are expected to know that the mission for which they have been assembled is successfully accomplished. This would include apprehending a person suspected of committing or having committed a cognizable offence, and in that process, if there is resistance, then to use the minimal force necessary to take the person into custody.”

Thereafter, rejecting their appeals, the Court further observed, “These are all uniformed policemen who are expected to maintain the law and order and are not to take law and order in their own hands. They are expected to act responsibly with a view to protecting the life and liberty of the citizens.”

It, however, converted their conviction from the offence of murder to culpable homicide, opining,  the Court is satisfied that although the culpability of the accused for the homicidal death of the deceased has been proved beyond reasonable doubt, the evidence of the prosecution does not precisely point out which of the accused caused the fatal injuries.”