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Meghalaya HC asks Meghalaya govt to inform heirs of persons who died in police custody

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The Meghalaya High Court has on Tuesday observed that the Meghalaya government should continue its endeavour to inform the heirs or next of kin of all the persons who died in custody in the State since 2012.

The Division Bench of Chief Justice  Sanjib Banerjee and Justice H.S. Thangkhiew heard a Suo Motu Public Interest Litigation (PIL) on the issue of  the custodial violence and other matters relating to prison conditions.

Pursuant to the previous directions issued on May 2, 2022, Assistant Solicitor-General has filed a compilation of the State/UT-wise incidence of deaths of inmates due to various causes for the years 2014 to 2020 as published by the National Crime Records Bureau.

A further affidavit has also been filed by the State through the Inspector General of Prisons confirming that the State’s affidavit of April 28, 2022 has brought on record the complete list of persons who have died in custody in the State since 2012. The affidavit also indicates that in compliance with the previous order of May 2, 2022, the State has sent notices to the heirs of the 38 persons who have suffered custodial death in Meghalaya, which are being looked into by the High  Court.

On Tuesday, while considering the affidavit, the Bench observed that the figures furnished by the State indicate a total number of 38 custodial deaths in the State since 2012.

“Though certain anomalies in the figures previously furnished by the State had been indicated by learned ASG, who has been appointed as Amicus Curiae, but there does not appear to be any further input regarding more deaths in custody during the relevant period.”

Therefore, the Bench directed that the State should issue advertisements in select newspapers published from Shillong, Tura and Nongstoin inviting information on custodial deaths in addition to the 38 indicated by the State. 
The advertisements should provide that any person with verified information on any other custodial death in the State, apart from the 38 indicated by the State, during the period 2012 onwards, may write to the Court with supporting documents or may even appear before this Bench with all particulars in support, further directed the Bench.

Further, the court asked that the exercise that is now to be conducted is to ascertain which of the 38 deaths during the period may have been due to natural causes and which others may have been unnatural. The post-mortem and magisterial reports pertaining to the custodial deaths are available and shall be specifically compiled in respect of the 38 cases for the Court to go through the same. 

It is recorded that the NCRB statistics clearly indicate that the figures recorded therein are as obtained from the States and Union Territories without any independent verification of the causes of deaths by the NCRB.

Thus, the High Court wanted a look at the causes of death to ascertain as to whether the deaths accounted under the head of natural deaths, were, in fact, natural or from ordinary causes in the usual course.

“In the event of unnatural deaths, a quantum of compensation would be required to be paid by the State to the heirs or next of kin of the deceased inmates. Tentatively, the quantum of compensation is fixed at Rs 10 lakh as on date, with a provision for an increased amount if the age of the inmate who suffered an unnatural death was below 40 at the relevant time.”

For the State’s compilation of the 19 cases of natural deaths, the Bench directed that the compilation should include the post-mortem reports and the magisterial enquiry reports in respect of every case and should be arranged in a chronological order. 

The Court has posted the matter on June 29, 2022 for further hearing.

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