Nellimarla Custodial Death: Call For Credible Investigation

The Human Rights Forum (HRF) calls for a credible investigation into the death in custody on February 11 of Betha Rambabu (42), a self-employed electrician, in the precincts of the Nellimarla police station of Vizianagaram district. The probe must be conducted by an agency as independent of the local police as possible.

A three-member HRF team on Sunday visited Vizianagaram and Nellimarla and elicited facts surrounding Rambabu’s death. We spoke with family members of the deceased, who is Padmasali by caste, and the police. We also visited the Nellimarla police station.

The police version is that Rambabu, a habitual offender, was arrested on the evening of February 10, 2022 for having stolen battery invertors from the office premises of the Employment Guarantee Scheme in Nellimarla. He was kept in the record room at the police station in Nellimarla where he bolted himself inside sometime around dawn the next day. At about 9 am, the police say they broke in to find him hanging with rope he had managed to get inside the police station. He was rushed to hospital but did not survive.

Based on our fact-finding, we do not find the police version of events plausible. There are a number of inconsistencies and contradictions in the police narrative that cast aspersion on their account. These doubts can only be clarified and the truth determined if there is an investigation by an agency that is not part of the district police apparatus. Such an investigation must pinpoint blame and prosecute police personnel accordingly. We do not want a whitewash enquiry that usually ends up in a few suspensions and then the matter is closed.

The family of Rambabu has to be compensated substantively. This would be in accordance with judgements of the Supreme Court in respect of custodial deaths.

Following the death, the District Collector has ordered a magisterial inquiry by the Vizianagaram Revenue Divisional Officer (RDO). HRF wishes to point out that this does not meet the requirement of law. The insertion of Section 176 (1A) through a significant amendment to the CrPC in the year 2005, mandated that all custodial deaths should be inquired into by a Judicial Magistrate or Metropolitan Magistrate rather than an Executive Magistrate. This provision was inserted by the Criminal Law Amendment Act (Act 25 of 2005) and has come into force on 23-06-2006.

The objective of this amendment is to insulate the administration of criminal justice from institutional bias and to ensure that justice is not only done but seen to be done. The inquiry by a judicial officer was intended to be an effective measure to prevent abuse of power. The whole investigation was to be conducted under the gaze of the judiciary, which would thereby act as a check on the investigating agency to act well within its purview. It would also dispel suspicions about fair play.

Clearly, the Vizianagaram RDO is not empowered to conduct inquiry into the Nellimarla custodial death case and any such probe has no legal sanctity. The act amounts to procedural ultra vires. HRF has represented to the Vizianagaram Collector to uphold the letter of Section 176 (1A) and ensure that a Judicial Magistrate conducts inquiry into the Nellimarla case.

We noticed that there were no closed-circuit television (CCTVs) cameras installed at the Nellimarla police station. We were surprised to learn that no police station in the district has CCTVs. And this appears to be the case across all police stations in the State. This is clearly in contempt of the exemplary December 2, 2020 judgement of the Supreme Court that directed the Centre, States and Union Territories to install CCTVs with night vision cameras and audio recording in every police station. The SC specified that these cameras must cover “interrogation rooms, entry and exits, lock-ups, corridors, lobbies, reception area, rooms of the sub-Inspector and Inspector, duty officer’s room, in front of the police station compound, back part of the police station and outside washrooms.”

If this landmark order is implemented properly, it will go some way towards reducing custodial violence and human rights abuses and ensuring greater police accountability. However, so far there has only been non-compliance with the order. We urge the State government to see that this SC directive is complied with at the earliest.

VS Krishna 
(HRF AP & TS Coordination Committee member)

K Sudha
(HRF AP State general secretary)


Related Posts

Scroll to Top