“THEY ATE dal makhni, chapattis and paid the bill of Rs 200. As I turned back to remove the used utensils, two men in plain clothes arrived and asked them some questions. Subsequently, a scuffle broke out between the two men and the three who had finished dining. I ran downstairs to call my employer and heard the noise of gunshots. When I came back, I learnt that one of the three men, who had dinner minutes before, was dead and two others were nabbed,” said Makhan Singh (27), an eyewitness moments before the encounter happened.
Makhan Singh was at the eatery counter when the three men came to him and ordered food. “The three men arrived at my shop around 2.15 am and asked me for food. They ordered dal makhni and chapattis. At that time, I was the only one sitting at the eating joint. My employer, Ramesh Kumar Sharma, had gone to his room downstairs. I served them food. They were talking with each other in Punjabi and seemed to be in a relaxed mood.”
Ramesh said, “Makhan Singh was so scared while knocking my door. He was saying, ‘Tha-tha go gayi’ (referring to the firing). It took me around 10 minutes to get a grasp of the situation. Minutes after the firing, a huge crowd gathered in the street and things only became clear when three policemen in uniform arrived and informed that an encounter between criminals and police had taken place.”
Ravi Shankar, another shopkeeper at Naina Devi market, said, “Panic gripped the locals and visitors. Police barricaded the entire area and stopped the entry of four-wheelers from one of the sides causing inconvenience to devotees. There were a few people in the market when the firing took place. I came to know about the incident around 5 am when one of my workers informed me about the huge police presence at the market.”
Local residents and members of the Naina Devi Shrine Board described the incident as unfortunate and said that it was for the first time that such a thing happened here. Prabhat Sharma, a priest at the Naina Devi Shrine, said, “The incident has put a question mark on the efficiency of Himachal police. There is no strict checking of visitors especially in the late night hours. If Himachal police had checked the three men in the robbed Verna at the check post, which is located at the starting point of the Naina Devi road, the firing could have been easily avoided.”
SDM, Swarghat, Anil Chauhan, who is also the chairman of the Sri Naina Devi Temple Trust, said, “I am conducting a magisterial probe in connection with the encounter in which a man named Sunny Masih was killed.”