Actor Kamal Haasan-led Makkal Needhi Maiam (MNM) has moved the Madras High Court challenging the constitutional validity of certain provisions of the Tamil Nadu Police Reforms Act of 2013 and insisted that the State Police Complaints Authority (SPCA) should be headed only by a retired High Court judge and not the Home Secretary.
Justices R. Subbiah and Krishnan Ramasamy on Monday directed the State Government Pleader to accept notice on behalf of the government and file a counter affidavit within two weeks. Senior counsel Satish Parasaran, representing MNM, said the constitution of SPCA in the State was skewed and against the Supreme Court’s directive.
In an affidavit filed through counsel on record Vijayan Subramanian, the party’s general secretary — organisation (North and East) A.G. Mourya, a former Indian Police Service officer, said Tamil Nadu had maintained an abysmal record in curbing police excesses and custodial deaths.
He said that according to a report based on Central government statistics, 76 custodial deaths, the highest among southern States, had occurred in Tamil Nadu in 2018.
Of the 76, 65 had died in judicial custody. Even according to the National Crime Records Bureau data, Tamil Nadu had the second highest number of custodial deaths in 2018, he said.
The National Campaign Against Torture in its ‘India: Annual Report on Torture 2019’ had stated that 1,731 died in custody in 2019 and of them 1,606 were deaths in judicial custody and the rest of 125 deaths in police custody. As per this report too, Tamil Nadu stood second in the country with as many as 11 deaths reported in police custody.
The reports highlight the grave need to create an impartial and effective SPCA which could ensure higher accountability and scrutiny on the practices employed by the police. Mourya said the need for such an authority was further exacerbated by the recent custodial deaths of father-son duo P. Jayaraj and J. Benicks of Sattankulam in Thoothukudi district.
Pointing out that the Supreme Court in Prakash Singh versus Union of Indian (2006) had analysed the beleaguered history of police reforms in the country and ordered for constitution of SPCAs headed by retired Supreme Court or High Court judges and also district level police complaints authorities led by retired district judges.
The requirement of retired judges was insisted upon to ensure impartiality while inquiry into complaints against police personnel. However, the State government in November 2019, 13 years after the Supreme Court directive and six years after the enactment of Tami Nadu Police Reforms Act, constituted the SPCA headed by the Home Secretary.
The SPCA also comprised of the Director General of Police and Additional Director General of Police (Law and Order). Similarly, the district level police complaints authorities were constituted under the chairmanship of Collectors. Such a constitution under the chairmanship of bureaucrats was clearly unconstitutional and in violation of Supreme Court directions, the litigant party claimed.