According to National Crime Records Bureau 2019, there were no custodial deaths in Uttar Pradesh and the country recorded 85 of them. But, the data shared by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) in response to a question in the Lok Sabha says otherwise.
In Uttar Pradesh, there were 3 cases of custodial death in police custody and 400 such cases in judicial custody, according to the MHA data. Moreover, even the national data is not the same. While NCRB data shows that 85 custodial deaths occurred in 2019, the MHA count is 113.
In the preceding year too, NCRB data shows no custodial deaths in Uttar Pradesh.
"Since there are different statistics given out by Lok Sabha, NCRB, NHRC, SHRC, individual magistrates, RTI reports, newspaper reports and the like, what needs to be found is if there are actually no cases of custodial deaths and if there is some discrepancy in reporting that needs to be checked," Maja Daruwala, an advocate and Executive Director of Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, told Factchecker.
Usually, within 24 hours of nabbing a person, the police have to arrest them and produce them in front of a magistrate to determine if the accused with be sent to jail or police custody.
Explaining what counts as police custody and judicial custody, Raja Bagga, Senior Program Officer of Police Reforms Programme, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, said if an accused is held up by the police even outside the premises of the police station and they die due to any reason it will be considered a death in police custody. Whereas, if an accused is remanded to jail by a magistrate and dies thereof, it is a death in judicial custody, Bagga added.
According to news report published in National Herald, an FIR was lodged against an inspector and other cops posted at Rampur Kalan police station in Uttar Pradesh for an alleged custodial death of a farmer. The post-mortem report revealed that the farmers died due to injuries.
Given that so many custodial deaths have already happened in UP, the probable excuse of definitional issue cannot be accepted, added Bagga.
The numbers in many other states too don't match. Number of custodial deaths in police custody in Bihar stand at 1 (NCRB data) and at 5 (MHA data), in Chhattisgarh it's 5 and 3, in Gujarat it is 10 and 12, Haryana 0 and 3, in Himachal Pradesh 3 and 4 and in Tamil Nadu it's 11 and 12, respectively.
In June 2020, amidst the Covid-19 pandemic, a case of custodial death of a father and a son in Thoothukudi district of Tamil Nadu gathered public attention and caused outrage.
"This is a clear case of under-reporting by the state. First, NCRB does not scrutinise cases. Also, there is no clear definition of custodial deaths in India. But we don't know while reporting deaths what procedure is UP following," Raja Bagga also told Factchecker.
Maja Daruwala seconded Bagga by saying that one needs to understand what does custody mean since court has said that if one is held up by police irrespective of being inside or outside the police station, it will be considered police custody.