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Rs 5 lakh for son’s death in custody

New Delhi, Aug. 22: Peruram should soon get Rs 5 lakh — it’s the price of his son Mohan Lal’s life.

The 26-year-old, picked up from Amritsar by Jammu and Kashmir police in connection with a string of burglaries, died of torture in July 2003.

The National Human Rights Commission yesterday asked the state government to pay Rs 5 lakh to the rickshaw-puller’s family, the same compensation — and the highest so far in the country — it had recommended in an earlier case of custodial death.

The Uttar Pradesh government had then paid the family of a youth from Balia district who died in custody after being picked up sometime in 1997.

In May this year, the Supreme Court had asked a Hyderabad hospital to pay Rs 1 crore as compensation to a Bangalore-based software engineer who was left paralysed from the waist down after a botched operation.

The amount, the highest awarded in a case of medical negligence in India, was paid by the hospital within the time set by the court.

In its order yesterday, the NHRC asked for a compliance report with proof of payment within eight weeks. The order is binding, but the state government can challenge it in the high court though appeals are rarely filed in these cases.

“Investigations into any custodial death are done by state officials under the supervision of the NHRC, and the evidence is often beyond reasonable doubt. Also, before the compensation amount is declared, the state government is always sent a notice on why monetary relief should not be given to the next of kin of the deceased,” said Suhas Chakma, director, Asian Centre for Human Rights, which filed a complaint demanding a probe into Lal’s torture.

“It’s only when the stipulated time is over and they (the government) don’t respond, that the commission announces the compensation.”

In Lal’s case, a notice was sent to the state chief secretary who failed to respond within six weeks, which effectively means the Jammu and Kashmir government found nothing in the commission’s order to challenge.

Lal was picked up from Amritsar in connection with burglaries in Jammu on June 21 and died on July 2 in the custody of Jammu police.

The NHRC said the first post-mortem found 16 external injuries and reported that the youth died of septicaemia. A magisterial probe concluded that blood infection was the cause of death and there was no foul play.

Lal’s relatives then took his body to Amritsar and insisted on a second post-mortem. A fresh autopsy, by a medical board at Medical College, Amritsar, found 41 wounds, blisters and six marks of injuries caused by electric shocks. The blisters and the shock marks, found in the second post-mortem, had not been mentioned in the first autopsy report.

The NHRC said it prima facie appeared that the first post-mortem had been fudged.

The commission took up the matter after the Asian Centre for Human Rights filed the complaint on July 9.

“The NHRC order is a step in the right direction. However, the commission must take further action to prosecute the culprits, including those who fudged the first post-mortem in Jammu,” Chakma said.

He said the actual number of custody deaths in India was much higher than the figure available with the NHRC as the cases that reached the commission were only those that the police or prison officials reported.

He said most victims of custodial deaths are dead within 12 to 48 hours of being taken into custody.

Between 1994 and 2008, the NHRC recorded 16,836 custodial deaths. That comes to an average of 1,203 people every year.

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