After publicly felicitating top police officials and promising instant rewards to cops and eyewitnesses a day after the encounter with SIMI operatives, the Madhya Pradesh government has put all rewards on hold. Even as video and audio clips raised questions over the October 31 shootout that led to the death of eight SIMI activists within hours of their escape from Bhopal Central Jail, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan had — in his November 1 foundation day speech — announced a reward of Rs 2 lakh each for those cops involved in the shootout and Rs 1 lakh each to those involved in the search operation.
The CM had also announced that a cash reward of Rs 40 lakh (Rs 5 lakh for each of the eight SIMI activists) would be distributed among villagers who informed the police.
However, before the reward money could be distributed, the government announced a judicial probe into the jailbreak and the encounter. Retired judge of Madhya Pradesh High Court Justice S K Pandey has been asked to conduct the probe.
A top official in the CMO told The Indian Express that all the rewards had been put on hold and would be given only after the legal process was over. Senior Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan said a judgment by former Chief Justice R M Lodha had clearly laid down guidelines in encounter killings, one of which said that no gallantry award can be given before the mandatory inquiry was over.
The apex court in PUCL versus the State of Maharashtra case — Bhushan was counsel for PUCL — had issued detailed guidelines in the matters of investigating police encounters as the standard procedure for thorough, effective and independent investigation.
“No out-of-turn promotion or instant gallantry reward shall be bestowed on the concerned officers soon after the occurrence, it must to be ensured at all costs that such awards are given/recommended only when the gallantry of the officers concerned is established beyond doubt,’’ one of the 15 guidelines said.
The government has already ordered a CID inquiry into the encounter. Chouhan had initially announced that the National Investigation Agency (NIA) will probe the encounter but did not write to the central agency. Former DGP Nandan Dubey has been asked to probe the jailbreak.