The numbers paint a disquieting picture: Since March 20, 2017, when the Yogi Adityanath government came to office, 30 persons have been killed by police in encounters. There have been a total of 921 encounters in this period in which three policemen have also been killed and over 2,200 persons arrested. Since January, there have been eight incidents in which nine persons including a police constable have died. The National Human Rights Commission issued a notice to the state government last year to explain 19 encounters in a period of six months and the Opposition has demanded answers from the administration.
While the UP government has refused to respond to the allegations that many of these encounters are fake, senior police officials have endorsed the killings. Last year, an additional superintendent of police responded to an encounter killing in Lucknow by tweeting: “#uppolice encounter express halts in the capital. miles to go”. Last week, after a 25-year-old gym trainer was killed in an encounter in Noida, the NHRC issued a second notice to the UP government where it recalled that the chief minister had said “criminals will be jailed or killed in encounters”. Clearly, police personnel in UP appear to be misusing their power with the tacit endorsement of higher officials. To be sure, UP needs to battle rampant crime. But that encounter killings are seen to offer a solution testifies to and feeds into the brutalisation of both the polity and society. The government needs to urgently sensitise its officials about the lawful processes and procedures and address the structural reasons behind the high rate of crime in the state and the failure of the criminal justice in addressing it. It must break the silence on encounters and investigate each one of them as required by the Supreme Court and the NHRC. Both institutions have laid down detailed procedures and guidelines to investigate encounters. Senior officers found guilty of encouraging or shielding trigger-happy officials must be punished.
The use of extra-legal methods, be it fake encounters or custodial torture, reflects poorly on the standards of policing. Crime in states like UP flourishes also because of the political patronage enjoyed by criminals. Police and the administration cannot keep turning their eyes away from the more arduous challenge at hand.