Apex Court convicts 9 cops in Joinus custodial death case

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 05 Sep 2018 09:50:47


Staff Reporter,

The Supreme Court of India on Tuesday convicted nine cops who were posted with Crime Branch, to seven years of rigorous imprisonment in connection with custodial death of Joinus Adam Yelamati 25 years ago after he was brutally thrashed by cops.

Describing custodial death as completely unacceptable, the Supreme Court strongly denounced the third-degree torture and reminded the police force that “they have a duty not merely to the individual accused before them, but also to the State and to the community at large. Such incidents involving police usually tend to deplete the confidence in our criminal justice system much more than those incidents involving private individuals.”

A division bench consisting of Justice N V Ramana and Justice Mohan M Santanagoudar while enhancing sentence of nine personnel from three years to seven years, however refused to convict them for culpable homicide. Those convicted include API Yashwant Mukaji Karade, PSI Rambhau Vitthalrao Kadu, Police Constables Jahiruddin Bashirmiya Deshmukh, Nilkanth Pandurang Chaurpagar, Namdeo Nathuji Ganeshkar, Ramesh Tukaram Bhoyar, Ashok Bhawani Shukla, and Sudhakar Marotrao Thakre. PI Narule passed away during pendency of appeal and acquittal of constable Raghunath Bhakte was maintained. “From the facts portrayed it is clear that the police knew the identity of the deceased was different from the person, they wanted to investigate initially. The manner in which the deceased and his family members were taken into custody reflects pure act of lawlessness and does not befit the conduct of the police,” the Supreme Court noted while reminding Maharashtra Police about their motto “Sadrakshanay Khalnigrahanaya (protect good and to punish evil).” The Court also stressed the need to develop “Democratic Policing”wherein crime control and means to achieve it are equally important. Adv Jadhav, Adv Vasant, Adv Nagamuktya, Adv Parmeshwaram and Adv Lubesh Meshram appeared for appellant, while Adv Nishant Katneshwarkar represented state.


What happened 25 years ago

Crime Branch received a complaint from Ganeshprasad, Arunkumar and Kashiram that they were looted eight days ago, but no complaint was lodged. The details of accused resembled with Joinus, who had past criminal antecedents.
Joinus was rounded up from his Ajni residence by Crime Branch personnel on June 23, 1993 on suspicion of robbery by patrolling party led by PI Narule. Later, he was roughed up at various places and was found motionless next morning in the cell by inmates. The case was handed over to State CID. There were allegation that his wife Zarina was allegedly molested by members of patrolling party.

The case was filed against police personnel after a lot of hue and cry and a petition was also filed by Christian Community Welfare Association demanding CBI probe and compensation was allowed by High Court and a compensation of Rs 1.50 lakh was awarded and lot of instructions to make police station a less dreaded place. The cops were charged under Section 302, 330 read with 34, 354, 355 and 342 of the Indian Penal Code.

The trial court did not find any connection with injuries and cause of death as medical evidence suggested that deceased Joinus was in an inebriated condition and died due to asphyxia. However, all of them were convicted for offence punishable under Section 330 of the IPC for voluntarily causing hurt to extort confession, or to compel restoration of property and awarded three years RI. They were also convicted under Section 354 for molesting Zarina for a period of six months. The court also found them guilty under Section 355 (Assault or criminal force with intent to dishonour person, otherwise than on grave provocation) and 342 (punishment for wrongful confinement) of IPC and awarded three years conviction.

What Supreme Court held

The lock-up was dirty, Joinus was in an inebriated condition, suffering from TB

Deceased died of asphyxiation due to contents of his vomit, hours later from the time when the injury was inflicted, which is an independent reason for cause of death herein.

Maintained concurrent view of trial court and HC that crime did not amount to culpable homicide

Enhanced the punishment from 3 years to 7 years RI

Classic example of police excess, trampling basic rights

Police are violators of law, had primary responsibility to protect and uphold law,

Punishment for such violation to be proportionately stringent to have effective deterrent effect and instill confidence in the society.

Why HC quashed conviction under Sec 354, 355 and 342

The accused moved the High Court against conviction, while State also filed an appeal for enhancement of sentence. The High Court on December 13, 2007 dismissed the State appeal and partly allowed the appeals by accused officer by acquitting PI Narule and his team of the offences punishable under Sections 354, 355, 342 read with 34 of IPC, however, upheld the conviction under Sec 330 of IPC. Moreover, Raghunath Bhakte was acquitted of all the offences.

The High Court noted that the injuries to the deceased were established by post-mortem report and granted benefit of doubt to accused since cause of death was not result of injuries sustained by the accused. The offence under Section 355 was not proved beyond reasonable doubt and High Court noted stark discrepancies in the evidence.


Cops took plea of ‘superior orders’

The accused thereafter moved the Supreme Court against this conviction. State of Maharashtra also filed appeal seeking enhancement of sentence and pleaded that they acted as per orders of their superior officer PI Narule. However, the Supreme Court rejected this defence and chided them for taking benefit of absence of PI Narule who passed away during this period and passing entire blame to him. They claimed that at the most Section 323 related to causing hurt was attracted.

The State of Maharashtra maintained that death was the cumulative effect of injuries caused by cops who mercilessly beat him by sticks outside his house by tying him to an electric pole and urged that if Section 302 was not attracted they should be charged for culpable homicide not amounting to murder.


What Nagpur bench had observed in 1994

The Christian Community Welfare Association had moved the Nagpur bench seeking CBI probe, compensation expressing dissatisfaction over State CID probe. a division bench consisting of Justice M B Ghodeswar and Justice R M Lodha had chided CID and police in unambiguous words. In fact Justice Lodha, while writing the judgement, observed “Police lock-up or death trap? Police lawlessness or rule of law? Police muscle or personal modesty ? Police harassment or human rights? Yet again a case of custodial death has given rise to myriad hard-touching and soul-searching questions. In this country where rule of law is inherent in each and every action and right of life and liberty is prized fundamental right adorning highest place amongst all important fundamental rights, whether life has no meaning to a person in police custody?

Whether personal modesty, decency, dignity on arrest of a person are increasingly exposed to third-degree practices which over-step the bounds of propriety? How long, harsh, crude, oppressive, excessive and torturous third-degree methods to the arrested person in the name of seeking information or investigation can be allowed to continue? Whether police personnel are custodians of law and order or law unto themselves and depredators of civil liberties? Whether to strip a person of his clothes and making him bare, naked and employing all sorts of physical and mental torture is not violative of prized constitutional right enshrined under Article 21 of the Constitution of India? Whether police power admits of no human rights of a person in its custody? Whether for inhuman acts of its officers and servants, the State must be made liable for violation of fundamental rights of its citizens?”