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All police stations must be equipped with CCTV cameras, persons in custody have right to secure CCTV footage: SC

cctv, surveillance

Every police station in the country must be equipped with night-vision Closed-Circuit Television (CCTV) cameras, capable of recording both the video and the audio, the Supreme Court said on Wednesday. This is a significant move to increase police accountability, and how it treats people while interrogating them, or while they’re in custody. The court also held that the footage captured by these cameras must be made available to a person who complains of force being used against them while they were in custody. A copy of the Supreme Court order was uploaded by Bar and Bench.

Apart from police stations, CCTV cameras will have to be installed at the offices of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), National Investigation Agency (NIA), Enforcement Directorate (ED), Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB), Department of Revenue Intelligence (DRI), Serious Fraud Investigation Office (SFIO), and any other central agency office which does interrogations, and has the power to arrest people, the apex court said.

The order was delivered by a bench of Justices Rohinton Fali Nariman, KM Joseph and Aniruddha Bose, while hearing a case on installing CCTV cameras at police stations.

According to the order, CCTV cameras should be installed across a given police station, including the main gate of the police station, all lock-ups, areas outside the lock-up room, all corridors, reception, all verandas/outhouses, inspector’s room, and even outside toilets. The data captured by these cameras should be stored for a period of 18 months, the order said.

To bring more accountability around how police departments behave with people while they’re in custody, the court said that a person will be free to complain whenever force is used against them. As such, these complaints can not only be filed the State Human Rights Commission, but specialised Human Rights Courts, which will be set up in every district of every state and Union Territory (UT). The CCTV footage will also be summoned to review and further investigate these complaints, the Supreme Court said.

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The court also held:

“[…] it shall be clearly mentioned therein that a person has a right to complain about human rights violations to the National/State Human Rights Commission, Human Rights Court or the Superintendent of Police or any other authority empowered to take cognizance of an offence. It shall further mention that CCTV footage is preserved for a certain minimum time period, which shall not be less than six months, and the victim has a right to have the same secured in the event of violation of his human rights.” — the Supreme Court

Set up oversight committees: The Supreme Court, in 2018, had directed the Home Ministry to form a Central Oversight Body to implement an action plan on the use of  videography at crime scenes during an investigation. It had also directed that every state have an oversight mechanism where an independent committee can study CCTV camera footage and periodically publish a report of its observations.

Following the court’s directions, compliance reports were filed by several states and UTs. However, a majority of these reports failed to disclose compliance with the formation of the oversight committees, and other details including the number of CCTV cameras installed at police stations. The court further directed all states and UTs to file fresh compliance reports within six weeks, with complete details about compliance with the court’s 2018 order.

The court also directed the formulation of oversight committees at the state and district levels. At the state level, the committee should include:

  • Secretary/Additional Secretary, Home Department
  • Secretary/Additional Secretary, Finance Department
  • Director General/Inspector General of Police
  • Chairperson/member of the state Women’s Commission.

This committee will have to purchase and distribute CCTV cameras, monitor the maintenance and upkeep of these cameras after installation, and address any grievances related to them, among other things.

At the district level, the committee should include:

  • The Divisional Commissioner/ Commissioner of Divisions/ Regional Commissioner/ Revenue Commissioner Division of the district
  • District Magistrate
  • A Superintendent of Police of that district
  • A mayor of a municipality within the district/ a head of the Zilla Panchayat in rural areas.

The station house officer (SHO) of a police station will be completely responsible to ensure that CCTVs installed in their police stations are functioning properly, and will have to report any malfunctioning to the district oversight committee.

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