Normal policing has undergone a visible change in Madurai after the custodial deaths incident in Sattankulam.
The number of crime cases has come down in the lockdown period. Consequently, the number of escorts of accused too has come down.
“But, definitely the burden of post arrests – from getting fitness certificate from medical officers to lodging the accused in jails – has increased manifold,” says an Inspector of Police here.
After P. Jayaraj and his son J. Benicks died due to alleged police torture at Sattankulam police station in Thoothukudi, police stations across the State get frequent calls from the office of Superintendents of Police/Commissioner of Police to enquire about suspects/accused in custody at police stations.
Previously, the police stations used to get calls only from the Intelligence Section (in cities)/Special Branch (in rural districts) about the custody particulars, only in the nights.
“But, now our stations get at least four calls a day about the custody particulars – right at 6 a.m., 2 p.m. 6 p.m. and 9 p.m.” said an Inspector.
With the custody details getting updated with State Police headquarters each day, even Chennai Police Control is making calls to the Station House Officers in the night to check on the condition of person in police custody.
“The State police want to ensure that no more Sattankulam police station type of case occurs. And this has definitely put the police force on their back foot,” said another Inspector.
Oral orders have been issued to stations not to arrest any person on suspicion under Section 151 of Code of Criminal Procedure. Similarly, for any case that attracted a jail term for less than seven years, the police stations have been encouraged to let off the accused on station bail.
“Unless we suspect that letting the accused on bail could result in some repercussion, we do not send them to judicial custody,” he added.
Swab test mandatory
In normal circumstances, a medical fitness certificate, obtained from the Government Medical Officer under Section 54 of CrPC is enough to put an accused in custody. But, these days a medical certificate, indicating that the accused tested negative for COVID-19, has been made mandatory.
“And it takes at least 36 hours to 48 hours to get the result of the swab test,” say police officers.
The officers adopt different methods to comply with the arrest procedures.
It is mandatory to produce the accused before the Judicial Magistrate within 24 hours of the arrest, but some Judicial Magistrates insist on a COVID-19 negative certificate to issue remand order.
“Hence, we need to keep them in our custody till the COVID-19 test results are out,” one of them said.
However, another Inspector follows a different route. After getting the remand order, the accused is kept in the lock up at police station till the swab test result is out.
“We make a request to the jail authoritiesto allow for the delay in producing them in jail,” he said.
“The SHOs have the responsibility for the accused under police station custody. At the sam time they also have to safeguard our men from the accused as they might contract COVID-19 from them,” he added. One Inspector in Madurai had contracted infection from an accused.