38 custodial deaths in Meghalaya since 2012: Govt to HC

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Shillong: The Meghalaya government has informed the high court that 38 custodial deaths have been recorded in the state since 2012.

A bench comprising Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice H S Thangkhiew said that an exercise has to be carried out to ascertain which custodial deaths were unnatural.

The court fixed a tentative amount of Rs 10 lakh as compensation for the next of kin of those inmates who died unnaturally in custody and said the ex-gratia has to be increased if the deceased was aged below 40.

It asked the state government to issue advertisements in select newspapers published from Shillong, Tura and Nongstoin inviting information on custodial deaths in addition to the 38 indicated by the state.

The matter was on May 31 heard suo motu as a public interest litigation instituted by the HC following an order of the Supreme Court.

The state government filed affidavits before the court mentioning the complete list of people dying in custody since 2012.

It said that notices have been sent to next of kin of the deceased as per a previous court order on May 2.

“The figures furnished by the State indicate a total number of 38 custodial deaths in the State since 2012. Though certain anomalies in the figures previously furnished by the State had been indicated by ASG, who has been appointed as Amicus Curiae, but there does not appear to be any further input regarding more deaths in custody during the relevant period,” the court said.

Regarding its order to seek information for any more custodial deaths, it said, “The advertisements should provide that any person with verified information on any other custodial death in the State, apart from the 38 indicated by the State, during the period 2012 onwards, may write to the Court with supporting documents or may even appear before this Bench with all particulars in support.”

The order said the exercise that is now to be conducted is to ascertain which of the 38 deaths during the period may have been due to natural causes and which others may have been unnatural.

The post-mortem and magisterial reports pertaining to the custodial deaths are available and shall be specifically compiled in respect of the 38 cases for the court to go through the same.

“In the event of unnatural deaths, a quantum of compensation would be required to be paid by the State to the next of kin of the deceased inmates. Tentatively, the quantum of compensation is fixed at Rs 10 lakh as on date, with a provision for an increased amount if the age of the inmate who suffered an unnatural death was below 40 at the relevant time,” it added.

The next hearing will be on June 29.

The Meghalaya HC had in May this year directed the state government to identify the next of kin of the people who died in custody so that they could be informed about the pendency of proceedings initiated by the court, suo moto, for the purpose of compensating them.

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