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151 people died in police custody this year: Govt

In response to a question from Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) member Varun Gandhi, the union home ministry told Parliament on Tuesday that 151 inmates have died in police custody this year. Gandhi advocated for a state-by-state division of incarcerated deaths.

The ministry cited data from the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and noted that Maharashtra had the highest number of such deaths, with 26. At least 13 states did not report any deaths in custody, according to the report.

Suicides, illness, injuries sustained before and during police custody, and attempts to flee from custody were all listed as causes of death in custody in a recent National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) report.

According to the ministry, police and public order are state subjects, and as a result, the Centre does not intervene directly in matters of incarceration deaths.

“It is primarily the responsibility of the State Government concerned to prevent and ensure that police atrocities do not occur, as well as to protect citizens’ human rights,” the ministry stated.

In response to a separate question from BJP member Jagdambika Pal, the ministry stated that the number of cases of custodial violence has not increased. According to the report, the NHRC has received 19 reports of prison violence in the last three years. It went on to say that no one had died as a result of the violence.

There is a discrepancy between the data provided in the two responses and the findings of the NCRB. In 2020, the NCRB reported 76 deaths in police custody, down from 85 in 2019.

“In India, the NHRC and the NCRB officially report information on deaths in police custody. Even for something as grave and unambiguous as a police custody death, there has always been a mismatch in the data reported by both of these institutions,” said Raja Bagga, senior researcher, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative’s Police Reform Programme.

According to NCRB reports, police custody deaths were 85 and 76 in 2019 and 2020, respectively, whereas NHRC data for the same years showed 117 and at least 83 deaths. “One possible reason for this is the lack of a standardised definition and categorization of deaths in police custody.”

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