Following guidelines laid down by the Supreme Court in a 2014 case, the Uttar Pradesh government will hold an inquiry into the killing of gangster Vikas Dubey who was shot dead by policemen who said he tried to flee while being moved from Madhya Pradesh.
The outcome of that inquiry is anybody’s guess.
For, as per records, Dubey is the 119th accused to have been killed in what police called cross-firing since the Yogi Adityanath government took charge in March 2017.
Magisterial inquiries have been completed in 74 encounter cases where deaths occurred and the police have got a clean chit in all. In as many as 61 cases, closure reports filed by the police have been accepted by the court.
Records show that in all, there have been 6,145 operations in which 119 accused have died and 2,258 others injured. In these operations, 13 policemen lost their lives which include the eight near Kanpur last week. A total of 885 policemen were injured.
Despite the legal framework of landmark rulings and independent inquiries, due process in encounter killings continues to be disregarded.
In December last year, the Supreme Court ordered an independent investigation headed by former SC judge VN Sirpurkar into the killing of four men accused of gang rape and murder of a 26-year old veterinary doctor in Hyderabad by the police.
The SC, in doing so, had stayed proceedings before the National Human Rights Commission and the Telangana High Court. In circumstances similar to the killing of Dubey, the Telangana police said that the accused were shot at when they tried to snatch firearms of the police in an attempt to flee. Almost seven months later, the probe is on.
Opinion | The creation of Vikas Dubey
The Supreme Court has also intervened into encounters in Uttar Pradesh, which it termed was a “very serious issue” in January 2019.
People’s Union for Civil Liberties had moved the top court listing over a 1000 encounters that killed over 50 people. The case which was heard four times between July 2018 and February 2019 has not been listed since.
The NHRC has also issued at least three notices to the Uttar Pradesh government between since 2017 in cases of encounter deaths. While the state filed a common response to the notices defending its actions, the cases have not moved since.
While delays in probes into alleged encounter killings are common, state governments have often rushed to condone any action taken against the police.
In March last year, the Bombay High Court came down heavily on the Maharashtra government for suspending the sentences of 11 policemen who were convicted by a sessions court in 2013 in a fake encounter case. It struck down a 2015 order issued by the government suspending the sentences of police officers.
The Uttar Pradesh government listed the number of encounters as one of its “achievements” that the common man should be made aware of on Republic Day last year. The letter was sent to district magistrates in the state — the same authority responsible for holding an independent inquiry into every case of police killing.
According to the 2014 ruling in People’s Union for Civil Liberties v State of Maharashtra, the Supreme Court said in its guidelines that registration of a first information report (FIR) is mandatory.
“A Magisterial Inquiry must invariably be held in all cases of death which occur in the course of police action. The next of kin of the deceased must invariably be associated in such inquiry. In every case when a complaint is made against the police alleging commission of a criminal act on their part, which makes out a cognizable case of culpable homicide, an FIR to this effect must be registered under appropriate sections of the IPC,” the court said.
The ruling by then CJI RM Lodha and Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman said that the inquiry must show “whether use of force was justified and action taken was lawful.”
In 2009, the Andhra Pradesh High Court had also made it mandatory to file FIRs in every case of police killing against the policemen. The right to private defence of the policemen had to be made out before the inquiry by a magistrate, the court had said. Although the verdict was stayed immediately by the SC, in July 2019, the court upheld the high court verdict.
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