In Purna Chandra Mohapatra and Another v. State of Odisha & Others [Writ Petition (Civil) No. 13774 OF 2005], the Orissa High Court recently ordered the State of Odisha to pay Rupees 5 lakhs to Purna Chandra Mohapatra and his wife as compensation for the avoidable death of Manoj (their son) while in police custody due to police negligence.
Brief Facts Of The Case: The petitioners told the court that their son Manoj was coming home at 2 am on June 6, 2005 after witnessing a “melody concert” when the Inspector-in-Charge (IIC) of the Town PS, together with other policemen, forcibly brought him to the Police Station. The next morning at 10:30, the Police notified the Petitioners that Manoj had been transferred to Sadar Hospital, Dhenkanal. On the recommendation of the doctors at Sadar Hospital, Manoj was brought to SCB Medical College and Hospital, Cuttack.
He died en route. The petitioners claimed he died from Dhenkanal Police torture. Police said Manoj entered a foreign liquor shop in an intoxicated state by making a hole in the asbestos ceiling, collapsed to the floor, and made strange noises. Police patrols noticed. The shop was then opened, and Manoj was brought to the police station early on June 7 for verification. Manoj was taken to Dhenkanal Headquarters Hospital at 8.50 am for abdominal pain and vomiting.
Judgement: Taking into account the Police’s version and the final closure report accepted by the SDJM, Dhenkanal on 25 November 2012 (in which it was stated that there was no evidence that the death was a ‘custodial death’ caused by the police), the Court said that this does not absolve the police of their obligation to provide timely medical help to a person who was arrested and brought in pain to the Town PS. When the police found the dead on the floor groaning in pain when breaking into the foreign liquor store, there was no reason for holding him in PS custody without medical assistance from 3.20 am until 9 am. This is inexcusable negligence. Once a person is in police custody, their life and liberty are at risk. They are responsible for the individual in custody.
Further, the Court cited many cases (including the Case of ‘In re Death of Sawinder Singh Grover wherein the Apex Court extended the liability of state functionaries for acts of omission or commission constituting constitutional tort to deaths or violence that occurred, not necessarily at the hands of the officials, but while in their custody. Lastly, the Court observed that it is evident from the report of investigation of the police themselves that Manoj remained in police custody from 3.20 am till his death more than seven hours later on 7th June 2005. The Court directed that a sum of Rs.5,00,000/- (Rupees five lakhs) be paid by the State of Odisha to the Petitioners as compensation for the death of their son while in police custody.
JUDGEMENT REVIEWED BY PRAKIRTI JENA