Police Reforms : Encounter Killings


  • As many as 591 custodial deaths were recorded across India between 2010 and 2015
  • As many as 35,831 cases were registered against the police with the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) in 2015-16
  • Cases against the police involve illegal detentions, extortion, torture, fake encounters and others. The numbers do not include deaths in police custody, for which 153 cases were registered with the NHRC.


Reasons for Encounters and custodial deaths

  • Political motivations and Personal Grudges
  • Custodial deaths largely occur due to torture by third degree methods. Police personnel resort to third degree methods to draw confessions from the accused in the shortest possible time. Little thought is given to the consequences of the torture causing death.
  • The lack of patience and technical skills drive them to adopt crude methods. That erring policemen go scot-free in most cases spur others to ignore the due process.
  • The proclivity of superior officers and even politicians to shield them prevents action against them.
  • The natural propensity of the state police to defend its own personnel when custodial deaths are investigated makes it necessary for outside agencies to be involved in probes.



  • The Supreme Court ruled that in all cases of encounter deaths there shall be mandatory registration of FIRs and investigation by CID or any other independent agency
  • No officer shall be given out of turn promotion or a gallantry award for encounter operations till the inquiry is completed on its genuineness.
  • The court said that the magisterial inquiry should be completed expeditiously and of a police officer is found guilty of involvement in a fake encounter, he should be proceeded against legally and departmentally.


Independent bodies in other countries

  • Civil complaints review Boards in USA
  • Independent Police Complaints Commission as in the United Kingdom
  • Independent Police Investigative Directorate in South Africa


What needs to be done?

  • If stringent and timely action is not taken against delinquent policemen, custodial deaths are bound to become more frequent.
  • The responsibility devolves on senior police officers, who need to devise methods to monitor the number of suspects in each police station and the reasons for their detention.
  • Any detention or arrest should be promptly reported to district superintendents, who should, thereafter, ensure that SC and NHRC guidelines are strictly adhered to.
  • It is important that fake encounters and custodial deaths are probed impartially, and if necessary by outside agencies, so that the message goes out to the police that the rule of law can’t be compromised.

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