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It is tempting to welcome with both hands the Supreme Court directive to the Centre and the states to institute videography of all areas within police stations and the offices of central investigation agencies, as a way to prevent police brutality.
That would be facile, however. Technology cannot fix problems that have their roots in institutional structure and political culture. It would be far more effective to implement police reforms to depoliticise the working of the police and to make the force accountable, simultaneously, to the executive, the human rights watchdog and a committee of the legislature.
Suppose the court order is complied with, in full, and policemen converted into so many fish inside glass bowls, whose every movement and every sound is recorded and stored away; is that sufficient to eliminate torture? What is to prevent the police from arranging interrogation rooms outside police stations, where to carry out their third-degree practices?
What is the guarantee that CCTV cameras will not suffer convenient outages or that the recordings would not be damaged, say, by water pouring from a leaky roof ? Is electronic surveillance the optimal utilisation, from the point of view of advancing the cause of justice, of the enormous sums that would be required to install cameras in every room and corridor of every police station in the country? Do we have the bandwidth to back up the videography recording in the cloud?
The other part of the order, to set up human rights courts in every district, is more welcome. Here, too, special courts to speed up some parts of the justice system are suboptimal, compared to the desirable solution of an efficient system that hears and disposes of cases with dispatch.
Political empowerment of the citizen, who holds those who hold office to democratic account, is the bedrock of responsible government. That calls for deepening of democracy and institutional accountability of the civil service, the police and elected officials to the people. Judicial orders cannot deliver that.