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D K Basu case – ending custodial deaths

D K Basu case – ending custodial deaths

UPSC CSE Mains Syllabus: GS-2-   Structure, organization and functioning of the Executive and the Judiciary.

Indian Constitution- historical underpinnings, evolution, features, amendments, significant provisions and basic structure.

D K Basu case – ending custodial deaths

  • It was the mid-1980s and Calcutta, was witnessing the final phase of the Naxal movement — an armed peasant revolt against the zamindars, which had begun in the summer of 1967 in Darjeeling district’s Naxalbari area.
  • To counter the movement’s violent turn in the 1970s, the State adopted equally violent measures to suppress it. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, newspaper columns were full of reports of Naxal deaths in police lock-ups and staged encounters.
  • Stories of these custodial deaths, prompted Justice (retired) Dilip K Basu, then Executive Chairman of the Legal Aid Services of West Bengal and a senior lawyer at the Calcutta High Court and the Supreme Court, to send a letter along with the newspaper clippings to then Chief Justice of India, P N Bhagwati, on August 26, 1986.
  • Chief Justice Bhagwati, who introduced the concept of Public Interest Litigation to the Indian judicial system, treated the letter as a writ petition, and the Shri D K Basu, Ashok K Johri versus State of West Bengal and State of Uttar Pradesh case was taken up by the apex court in 1987.
  • That case led to the landmark order in 1996, known as the D K Basu judgment, on the guidelines to be followed by detaining authorities for any arrest.

The Judgment:

  • The Supreme Court judgment in DK Basu v. State of West Bengal was a turning point in the evolving jurisprudence on custodial
  • Since the D K Basu case, the apex court has issued eight more orders dealing with custodial violence, the last in 2015 on a miscellaneous petition filed by amicus curiae Singhvi, to enforce the implementation of the 1996 judgment.
  • These orders introduced many more guidelines including setting up of state human rights commissions and filling up of vacancies in existing ones.
  • D K Basu judgement directed district judges to carry out surprise visits to police stations, check on individuals held in lockups and find out if the police had registered cases against them and their details.”
  • The Court’s decision in Nilabati Behera v. State of Orissa made sure that the state could no longer escape liability in public law and had to be compelled to pay compensation. 
  • Similarly, the Court has held in many cases that policemen found guilty of custodialdeath should be given the death penalty.  
  • Therefore, there is neither a dearth of precedents nor any deficiency in the existing law.

What is needed:

  • There is a need to develop upon the existing legislations and policies.
  • Though the 262nd Law Commission Reportrecommended that the death penalty be abolished except in cases of ‘terrorism-related offences’, the Bill provided for the death penalty for custodial  
  • In 2017, the Central government admitted in the Supreme Court that it was seriously considering the 273rd Report of the Law Commissionthat recommended ratification of the N. Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhumane or Degrading Treatment (CAT).  
  • CAT was signed by India, but is yet to be ratified. 
  • However, except for minor discrepancies, the prevalent law in India is adequate and well in tune with the provisions of CAT.
  • First there is a need to implement the law as we have it. 
  • The investigations, the prosecutions are not fair; these must be rectified first. 
  • The police need to be trained better. 
  • The temptation to use third-degree methodsmust be replaced with scientific skills.  
  • Thus, the need of the hour is to strike at the root cause of the problem and implement recommendations of various commissions to bring in necessary reforms.

Source:”Indian Express”.


If custodial torture has to stop, the D K Basu judgment has to be implemented in spirit. Comment.