Thursday, March 30, 2023

Submit report on ‘police encounters’ by Nov 14: HC to Assam govt

Gauhati High Court on Thursday directed Assam government to submit the detailed investigation report on the police encounters through an affidavit by November 14, as the state government failed to provide the same in six weeks.
Hearing a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by Delhi-based lawyer and activist Arif Jwadder, the High Court on July 29 had given six weeks time to submit the detailed report through an affidavit into all the police encounters that have taken place in Assam since May last year.
The Assam government through an affidavit had earlier informed the court that 51 accused people died and 139 were injured in the encounters between May 2021 and June 2022 in 31 of the state’s 35 districts.
Jwadder told IANS on Thursday that the number of deaths by now has increased to 55.
After Himanta Biswa Sarma took charge as Chief Minister in May 2021, Assam had recorded 161 incidents of police encounters and actions resulting in the death of 51 accused people while 139 others were injured. The Assam government, through an affidavit on June 20, told the High Court that the number of deaths had increased to 54.
Jwadder had sought a thorough High Court-monitored probe into these police encounters by independent agencies including the Central Bureau of Investigation or any police team of other state.
Assam’s Director General of Police, the Law and Justice Department, the National Human Rights Commission and the Assam Human Rights Commission had been named as respondents in the PIL, filed by Jwadder.
Civil rights lawyer and activist Prashant Bhushan and senior lawyer Indira Jaising during their separate appearance for the petitioner, had earlier argued in the High Court that the PIL raised the issue of public importance involving the rule of law in Assam.
“The Assam Police did not follow the law and procedure laid down by the Supreme Court in the 2014 case of People’s Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL) versus Maharashtra on alleged fake encounters. The state government also did not follow the Supreme Court’s guidelines on conducting independent inquiries in all the cases of encounters, including those resulting in injuries,” Bhushan had told the High Court during his recent appearance on the PIL.
After assuming office in May last year, Assam CM announced a crackdown on militants, drug dealers, smugglers, murderers, cattle lifters and those accused of rape and crimes against women. Sarma, who also holds the home portfolio, has emphasised on a ‘zero tolerance policy’ towards crime and criminals, giving the police ‘full operational independence within the purview of law’ to act.
Of the 51 or 55 accused, some were killed in custody, some while ‘trying to escape after snatching police’s firearm’ while several others were shot in the leg.
A few accused died ‘after being hit by the police vehicles’ while going to verify their (accused) statement at the crime spot. The deaths of 51 or 55 people in many encounters included militants, wanted criminals, anti-socials involved in various crimes, drug peddlers, dacoits, arms smugglers and cattle thieves.
Jwadder, who also earlier lodged a similar complaint about these alleged ‘fake encounters’ with the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), in his PIL said that all the victims were unarmed and handcuffed at the time of the encounter.
“Those people who have been killed or injured were not dreaded criminals. Above all, this petition raises the issue of violations of the rule of law and equality before the law and equal protection of laws. Police personnel do not have a licence to kill, the whole idea of the CrPC is to apprehend criminals and bring them to justice, not to kill them.”
The PIL also said that such encounter killings deprive the victims of the right to personal liberty and life, which cannot be denied except by “procedure established by law”.
“There is no law enabling what has come to be known as ‘encounter killings’ and the Assam Police, like any other persons, are bound by the provisions of the CrPC. Failure to apprehend criminals and bring them to justice is a failure of the entire policing system in the state which requires an investigation by this court,” the PIL pointed out.
Jwadder said that the NHRC had earlier taken cognizance of his complaint and asked for an action taken report from the Assam Police.


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