A 22-year-old taxi driver was gunned down near Domana police station by the Special Operation Group (SOG) of the J&K Police Sunday afternoon. This is the first case of custodial killing by the SOG after the PDP-BJP government came to power in the state in March.
Police claimed the deceased, Tarsem Lal of Chinore, was a narcotics smuggler and was arrested by the SOG at a checkpost on Akhnoor-Rajouri road on Saturday evening when he, along with two others, was heading to Poonch. But instead of handing the men over to the concerned police station at Akhnoor, the SOG personnel took them to Jammu.
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Police claim the next afternoon, while taking the accused to Domana police station, the deceased tried to escape. He was shot by the SOG personnel and died on the way to Government Medical College Hospital in Jammu.
Incidentally, Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, during his previous stint as CM in 2003, claimed he had disbanded the SOG and merged it with the state police.
The state government has announced Rs 5 lakh ex-gratia compensation and jobs for two members of the victim’s family. Police have registered a murder case against five SOG personnel, including an assistant sub-inspector. The five have been taken into custody and a departmental inquiry has been ordered.
Deputy IGP, Jammu-Kathua range, Ashkoor Wani said the SOG had seized two packets of charas from the accused. He said they were taken to Gandhi Nagar for questioning and were being taken back to Domana police station when the incident took place. On reaching Domana, the deceased apparently said he had to attend nature’s call and then tried to escape, Wani claimed.
However, a police official at Domana police station, who did not wish to be named, claimed that the SOG personnel had reached the main gate of the police station with the accused at 2.30 pm. “While two of the accused entered the police station, the third freed himself from handcuffs and tried to escape,” said the police official.
Another police official claimed, “The SOG has been formed to carry out anti-militancy operations. As there are very few active militants left in the state, they often pick up small-time criminals to please their seniors.” Director General of Police K Rajendra admitted that the SOG’s main task was anti-militancy operations. He said that in case the SOG apprehends a criminal, it is supposed to immediately hand him over to the concerned police station and not keep him in its own custody.
Tarsem, the eldest of three children, was a taxi driver who drove a second-hand Maruti car purchased two months ago, his father Shamsher Singh said. He added that on Friday evening, he, along with his friends Kamal Sharma and Irfaan, had left home saying they were going to Patnitop, a hill station on the Jammu-Srinagar national highway near Udhampur.
He said he called his mother the next day around 7 pm, and asked her to keep dinner ready as he would reach soon. But half an hour later, his phone became unreachable and he did not return home. The next afternoon, the family was informed over the phone that Tarsem has been shot while trying to escape police custody.