'Encounters' (between police and criminals): India

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Fake encounters

An overview

The Times of India

“Terrorist killed in encounter.’’ Summary justice or cold-blooded murder? The Sohrabuddin-Kauserbi case has exposed the dark side of India’s vigilante cops. Sunday Times reports

Amrita Singh | TNN

They kill people. The more they kill, the better their chances of out-of-turn promotions and perks — and the bigger their legend. They are the ‘encounter specialists’ of the police force and they are never out of news.

Last week they made news again when their version of a 2005 encounter in Ahmedabad fell flat.

Sohrabuddin Sheikh, they said, was an LeT man on a mission to kill CM Narendra Modi and other Gujarat leaders. The police account of events raised some doubts in the routine departmental inquiry mandatory after an encounter death but the matter was hushed up. Until the Supreme Court stepped in.

Here is what actually happened in 2005: Sohrabuddin, his wife Kauserbi and their associate Tulsiram Prajapati were picked up from a bus while on their way to Sangli from Hyderabad and taken to an unknown destination. Sohrabuddin was gunned down in cold blood, his wife was killed two days later and her body burnt, and Prajapati was eliminated a few months later. All this came to light only in a CID enquiry after the SC intervened on a petition filed by Sohrabuddin’s brother.

But this is not a one-off case, says Supreme Court advocate Rakesh Shukla. ‘‘Almost all encounters in Delhi are doubtful. The Ansal Plaza shootout (in which two LeT suspects were killed) turned out to be fake and there are doubts about the Millennium Park shootout in 2003.’’

Two terrorists were killed in that operation which was led by ACP Rajbir Singh. According to the police,the terrorists were told to surrender but they opened fire, forcing the police to retaliate. However, investigations by the People’s Union for Democratic Rights tell a different story. There is evidence that one of the terrorists, Rafique, was already in police custody; the ACP had visited Rafique’s mother in UP a day before the encounter and had let her talk with her son on his cellphone, says the PUDR report.

What’s intriguing, says Shukla, is that encounters across the country follow a similar pattern. “The site of the encounter is almost always deserted, the time is almost always late night or early morning, and a policeman almost never gets injured.”

This phenomenon is not restricted to just the metros. “In Andhra Pradesh, 99% of the encounters are fake. The police usually run away when they see a Naxalite but whenever they find him sleeping, eating or having fun with the family, they surround him in huge numbers and then kill him in cold blood,” says K Balgopal, a Hyderabad-based lawyer and human rights activist.

While eliminating terrorists in encounters has become all too common — several state police forces now boast their own encounter specialists — it’s largely a post-Independence phenomenon, says Ujjwal Kumar, a reader at Delhi University. The first fake encounters were recorded during the Telangana movement in late 1940s, when many people were summarily eliminated. “The killings increased during the Emergency with the rise of the Naxalite movement; now some states use it as a strategy to eliminate terrorists,” says strategic analyst K Subrahmanyam.

According to an NHRC report, the worsthit state is Uttar Pradesh with 68 fake encounters in 2003-04 and 54 in 2004-05. The figures were nine and five, respectively, for Andhra while Gujarat reported one fake encounter in 2004-05. But as Balgopal points out, the figures do not reflect ground reality since NHRC only investigates instances that are brought to its notice.

Former Intelligence Bureau director Ajit Doval admits it’s not rare for the police to resort to extra-legal methods while dealing with terrorists. “They resort to staging an encounter in cases where the evidence is hard to come by,” he says. ‘‘There is a school of thought in the police that believes resorting to extra-legal methods to eliminate terrorists is not wrong because it’s their moral duty to save people.’’ In fact, D G Vanzara, the main accused in the Sohrabuddin encounter case, reportedly said it would become more difficult to wage the war against terrorism and the underworld after he was arrested.

Not surprisingly, vigilantism has risen at an alarming rate. Says Balgopal: “FIRs filed after an encounter are based on the account of the police officer concerned. The version is seldom questioned even if the story appears straight out of a Bollywood movie.”

Shukla believes it has to do with the general perception that it’s okay to bump off a person if he has a criminal background. Most cases of fake encounters don’t go to the courts and when they do, the court usually rules in favour of the police. “There is little doubt that encounters are faked — I have often been offered money by the police to withdraw from a case. Where does that money come from? I am sure they won’t show that in their cash book!” says Shukla. ‘‘In that sense, the Gujarat incident is a positive development as for the first time, the sympathies of both the court and the people seem to be for the victim.’’

So how did the police become a force that imperils basic human rights? Most believe it happens when rules get bypassed. There are guidelines that require every encounter to be investigated by the police department concerned; in case of any discrepancy, the matter has to be handed over to an independent agency. The police also have to inform the state human rights commission about the encounter which then carries out an independent investigation to verify that the encounter had indeed happened. “But none of the rules are followed,’’ says Shukla.“Encounters have become the norm, be it to settle a property dispute or swing a business deal.”

CBI decisions

1996 encounter: life imprisonment

Abhijay Jha, 4 cops get life for '96 fake encounter, Feb 23, 2017: The Times of India

A CBI court here sentenced four policemen to life in jail till death for a staged encounter in which they killed four daily wagers two days before Diwali in 1996.

On November 8, 1996, the four were shot dead around 2.30pm near Machri roundabout in Bhojpur (Modinagar) area. The victims were Jasveer (23), Jalaluddin (20), Ashok (17) and Parvesh (17).

The cops had said they were dreaded gangsters who were sitting near a roundabout under suspicious circumstances and started firing when challenged, forcing police to return fire. According to public prosecutor Rajan Dhaiya, the cops cremated the bodies saying they were unclaimed.

Following outrage over the incident, local residents and the family members of the victims began an agitation and eventually the case was handed over to the CBI on February 1, 1997. “Special CBI judge Rajesh Choudhary on Wednesday... awarded rigorous life imprisonment to Lal Singh, the then SHO of Bhojpur police station, sub-inspector Joginder Singh, and constables Surya Bhan and Subash Chand,“ Dhaiya said.

SHO Lal Singh retired in 2015 as DSP, sub-inspector Joginder Singh took VRS about six months ago (his last posting was in Kanpur), while constables Subash Chand and Surya Bhand are still serving in the force. All four were arrested on Monday.

The then circle officer of Modinagar, Jyoti Belur, a 1993 batch IPS officer, is the missing link in the case. Belur, who now lives in the UK, failed to appear in the court during the trial. The CBI, which filed the chargesheet in 2001, did not name her as an accused. But the court treated her as one. “A bullet found in Jasveer's body was fired from her revolver,“ Dhaiya said.

Court judgements

Death penalty for false 'encounters'

Indian Kanoon

Fake encounter cops must get death, says SC

‘They’re Cold Blooded Murderers’


New Delhi: In a chilling message to cops specialising in fake encounters, the Supreme Court on Friday said they were cold blooded murderers who deserve one punishment — death penalty.

“Cases where a fake encounter is proved against policemen in a trial, they must be given death sentence, treating it as the rarest of rare cases,” said a bench of Justices Markandey Katju and Gyan Sudha Misra.

The bench made this observation while rejecting bail to Mumbai policemen involved in the fake encounter at Nana-Nani Park at Versova, which involved “encounter specialist” police inspector Pradip Sharma and others.

Justice Katju, writing the judgment for the bench, said: “Encounter philosophy is a criminal philosophy, and all people must know this. Trigger-happy policemen who think they can kill people in the name of encounter and get away with it should know that the gallows await them.”

No policeman can take the plea of “being ordered by the superior officer” to hide behind the fake encounter crime, the bench said.

“In the Nuremburg trials, the Nazi war criminals took the plea that ‘orders are orders’, nevertheless they were hanged. If a policeman is given an illegal order by any superior to do a fake ‘encounter’, it is his duty to refuse to carry out such illegal order, otherwise he will be charged for murder, and if found guilty sentenced to death,” the court said.

“Fake encounters are nothing but cold blooded, brutal murders by persons who are supposed to uphold the law. If the offence is committed by policemen, much harsher punishment should be given to them because they do an act totally contrary to their duties.”

2018:Army court gives Maj Gen, 2 Colonels life term for fake encounter

Prabin Kalita & Rajat Pandit, Ex-Maj Gen, 2 Colonels get life term for fake encounter, October 15, 2018: The Times of India

4 Soldiers Also Guilty In 1994 Assam Killing

Twenty-four years after a fake encounter in which five leaders of All Assam Students Union were killed by the Army, a summary general court martial has sentenced a former Major General, two Colonels and four soldiers to life imprisonment.

The judgment, pronounced by the court martial held at the 2 Infantry Mountain Division at Dinjan, in Dibrugarh district of Assam, on Saturday, will have to be confirmed by “higher competent authorities” like the Eastern Army Command in Kolkata and Army Headquarters in New Delhi. “This can take two to three months,” a source said.

Sources said the seven held guilty are Major General (retired) A K Lal, Colonels Thomas Mathew and R S Sibiren, and junior commissioned officers (JCOs) and noncommissioned officers (NCOs) Dilip Singh, Jagdeo Singh, Albindar Singh and Shivendar Singh. They can file appeals against the verdict before the armed forces tribunal and the Supreme Court.

Lal, incidentally, was removed as commander of the strategically located 3 Infantry Division in Leh in September 2007 after a woman officer accused him of “misconduct” and “misbehaviour” on the pretext of teaching her yoga. He was dismissed from service in December 2010 after a court martial, but the armed forces tribunal later restored his retirement benefits.

‘Will deal sternly with cases of wrongdoing’

The new court martial verdict revolves around the extra-judicial killing of AASU activists Prabin Sonowal, Pradip Dutta, Debajit Biswas, Akhil Sonowal and Bhaben Moran after a unit of the Punjab Regiment had picked them up along with four others from different places in Tinsukia between February 17 and 19 in 1994.

The Army had detained the nine at the Dholla Army Camp after the general manager of Assam Frontier Tea Limited at Talap Tea Estate, Rameswar Singh, was killed by Ulfa militants. Five of them were later killed in the infamous Dangari fake encounter case on February 23. The then AASU vice-president and now BJP leader in the state Jagadish Bhuyan had fought for justice single-handedly in the Guwahati high court, which led to a CBI probe in the case. Chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal was AASU president at that time.

Though the CBI had also lodged a case against accused soldiers after recording statements of the survivors and other witnesses, the Army had obtained permission from the court to try them under military law through a court martial.

“The seven men have been dismissed from service and sentenced to life imprisonment. For 24 years, I have never once lost faith in Indian democracy, Indian judiciary and the Indian Army. The Army has given exemplary punishment to its own officers and men on finding them guilty and this has amplified the glory of the Army and increased people’s trust in the Army,” Bhuyan said.

The landmark judgment comes at a time when almost 750 Army officers and soldiers have filed petitions in the Sc against any move to dilute the iron-fisted Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), which gives military personnel special rights and immunity to operate in ‘disturbed areas’ like J&K and the northeast.

Army chief General Bipin Rawat, on his part, has said the force will stand firmly with all its soldiers who operate and conduct bonafide counter-insurgency operations in Kashmir and the northeast but will deal sternly with cases of wrongdoing, aberrations and moral turpitude.

The Army argues the AFSPA, first enacted by Parliament in 1958 to tackle insurgency in the northeast, is an “enabling Act” that provides “operational flexibility and protection” to military personnel operating in “extremely hostile environments” against terrorists and other inimical forces. But human rights activists have called for abrogation of the AFSPA, or making it “more humane” and less open to misuse at the very least.

Uttar Pradesh's post-2017 ‘encounters’

2017: 895 ‘encounters’ in UP

Piyush Rai, Encounter pradesh? UP had 895 in ’17, December 31, 2017: The Times of India

Twenty-six criminals were gunned down and another 196 injured in 895 encounters across Uttar Pradesh in 2017. According to the office of the director general of police (DGP) Sulkhan Singh, a sizeable portion of the total encounters – 359 – happened in the crime-infested Meerut zone.

Out of the total of 26 criminals gunned down this year, 17 were killed in encounters in Meerut zone, which comprises Meerut, Noida, Ghaziabad, Hapur, Bulandshahr, Saharanpur, Muzaffarnagar, Shamli, Baghpat and Bijnor districts.

Meerut was followed by the Agra zone, which was a distant second with 175 encounters. A total of 469 criminals were arrested in these encounters over the year while 17 others received bullet injuries. Three hardened criminals were gunned down.

Encounters have been a norm ever since the new government took over in March 2017. A total of 2,186 criminals were arrested this year with 1,680 carrying bounty on their heads.

The state government also attached the properties of 123 gangsters valued at Rs 123 crore. Properties of 33 gangsters were attached in Bareilly region.

Apart from the Gangster Act, the department slapped the stringent National Security Act (NSA) on 110 criminals, a good chunk of them (31) in Bareilly zone. In the Gorakhpur region, NSA was slapped on 29 criminals. The department also took a hit as three of its personnel were killed in these encounters apart from more than 200 others who received injuries of varying degrees.

Claiming that the law and order situation had improved in UP since the BJP formed the government in March, chief minister Yogi Adityanath last month said criminals in the state will “either be sent to jail or killed in police encounters”.

UP: 2017, March-2018, Aug

Piyush Rai, UP encounter toll at 64 since March 2017, September 17, 2018: The Times of India

In a rescue operation in a Saharanpur village on Saturday, police claim to have freed two traders who were abducted by criminals after a gunfight. Two criminals, a sub-inspector and a constable suffered gunshot injuries in the encounter. The two criminals later succumbed to their injuries in the district hospital on Sunday, police said.

With the latest killings, the toll in encounters in UP has gone up to 64 since March 2017. So far in Meerut zone, 1,673 criminals have been arrested and 40 have been gunned down by police in more than 800 encounters. A total of 374 criminals have suffered bullet injuries.

Police said Ompal Saini and Vicky had abducted the traders on Saturday. Police said Ompal and Vicky were involved in several cases of extortion, loot and murder. Going by police records, Ompal was wanted in 33 cases of loot, murder and extortion while Vicky was involved in 18-odd criminal cases in Saharanpur and Shamli.

Prashant Kumar, additional director general (ADG), Meerut zone, said, “Crackdown on criminals is being carried out in accordance with the guidelines of the honourable Supreme Court and the National Human Rights Commission. There is no fake encounter. Rogue police officers or those misusing power have been dealt with an iron fist.”

2018, Jan-May: UP sets new ‘records’

Piyush Rai, UP cops match 2017 encounter death count in 5 mths in 2018, June 5, 2018: The Times of India

Despite criticism from the National Human Rights Commission and other rights bodies and observers, encounters continue unabated in the state. It took UP police nine months to gun down 28 criminals in 2017. In 2018, the department neutralized the same number in just five months – between January and May. According to official data, Meerut region has seen the highest number of encounter deaths, at 38 so far, since March 2017.

Since the Yogi Adityanath government came to office early last year, 1,500 encounters have taken place, 56 criminals have been killed and hundreds injured.

2017-18: 30 of 48 killed belonged to majority community: UP

UP encounters not communal: Govt to SC, November 17, 2018: The Times of India

‘Channel Resorted To Cherry-Picking 14 Of 48 Cases To Show 13 People Were From Minority Community’

The UP government has informed the Supreme Court that 30 of the 48 suspected criminals killed in police encounters in last one year belonged to the majority community and accused PIL petitioners of making a malicious allegation to give communal colours to encounters.

It said in the period between March 2017 and March 2018, as many as 48 deaths took place in 47 encounters and each of these incidents were investigated by police from a station other than the one in whose jurisdiction the encounter took place as per the SC laid down procedure. The state said during these operations, 319 police personnel have received firearm injuries and four personnel have lot their lives.

“Investigations in 28 cases have been completed and final reports filed in 19 cases has been accepted by concerned courts. Further, magisterial inquiry has been completed in 33 cases and police action has been found lawful in the magisterial inquiry,” the state said.

The state said all those killed were dreaded criminals who have been avoiding lawful proceedings initiated against them. Taking a dig at the PIL petitioners, the state said; “an attempt is being made to present dreadful criminals as victims by publishing versions of persons having sympathy with the deceased accused persons and preparing unverified news report based on such baseless and fabricated facts and posts on the internet.”

It said that in all these cases the police was constrained to resort to retaliatory fire in self-defence when they were fired upon by the accused persons, who attempted to avoid arrests. Referring to reports in a web portal and TV channel, the state said these have resorted to cherry picking 14 of the 48 deceased in encounters to purportedly show that 13 of them belonged to minority community. The state said during these operations, 319 police personnel have received firearm injuries and four personnel have lot their lives. It said during the period in question, police have arrested 3.19 lakh persons accused in various cases and 98,526 surrendered.

Police during the raids have seized 530 guns, 26,244 pistols, 1,136 revolvers, 388 rifles, 10 carbines, two AK-47s and two SLRs.

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