Rights panel calls for police sensitisation, orders four cops to pay Rs 2.5 lakh to lawyer for harassment

Citing an “alarming” rise in harassment of people by those in uniform inside police stations, the state human rights panel has called for sensitisation of cops so that they can develop a sense of responsibility in dealing with citizens who look at them as protectors of law.

The Maharashtra State Human Rights Commission has recommended to the state Director General of Police (DGP) to hold periodical seminars to sensitize the state police force’s officials as part of an order in connection with the harassment of a couple in a police station.

The Commission passed the order earlier this month, a copy of which was made available on Friday.

The Commission came down heavily on the Nagpur police commissioner for not initiating criminal action against four city police officials for physically and mentally harassing an advocate and her husband who had gone to a police station to lodge a complaint.

The order said the incident “unfortunately unfolds a case of apathy, misuse of power by none other than officers of law enforcing agency and what is more shocking and pinching to note is the fact that the victim happens to a member of the legal fraternity”.

It directed the four errant police officials to jointly pay a compensation of Rs 2.5 lakh to the advocate and her husband within six weeks and said the couple was at liberty to launch prosecution against those cops.

The Commission noted that there was an “alarming” rise in such incidents at police stations and asked the DGP of Maharashtra to periodically hold seminars at all commissionerates and divisions for “sensitization of the police force and to focus on developing a sense of responsibility, courtesy in dealing with citizens and victims who look at them as protectors of law”.

The order came on an application filed by Nagpur-based advocate Ankita Makheja and her husband Nilesh Makheja through their advocate Rizwan Siddiquee seeking action against police officials for illegal detention and harassment.

In March 2020, Ankita had approached the Lakadganj police station to register a complaint against her neighbour for pelting stones at a stray dog. The couple alleged that instead of registering their complaint, the police illegally detained them and harassed them physically and mentally.

The Commission in its order said the “dignity and honour of the complainants were breached by the police action”.

“There would not be any impediment in holding that the victims’ fundamental rights to live with honour and dignity have been blatantly violated by none other than the guardians of the law,” the order passed by Commission member M A Sayeed said.

After the complaint was filed with the Commission, a report was submitted by Nagpur Police Commissioner Amitesh Kumar in 2021 admitting the incident and stating that disciplinary action had been taken against the errant police officers and that they had been transferred from the police station concerned.

The Commission questioned what prevented Kumar from initiating criminal action against the errant police officials under the Indian Penal Code when he had concluded that there was misconduct on their part.

“It can be safely inferred that it is this non-action on his part that constrained the complainants to seek justice from this Commission,” the order said.

The Commission said considering the “harsh and horrifying ordeal” the complainants had to undergo, they deserve to be compensated.

It directed the Additional Chief Secretary of the Maharashtra government to comply with the order, including its recommendations and directive on compensation, within one month and submit a compliance report.

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The errant police officials an inspector, a sub-inspector and two women constables in their reply to the Commission said they had been already punished for their alleged actions and they ought not to be punished twice for the same act. The four sought that the Commission dismiss the complaint filed by the couple as per the rule of “double jeopardy”.

The Commission refused to accept their contention noting that departmental action would not bar the prosecution and that unless a person has been convicted or acquitted in an offence, the question of double jeopardy would not arise.

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