Despite objections by the government and the army, a two-judge bench ordered the CBI to institute a SIT to probe the alleged extra-judicial killings.
New Delhi: The Supreme Court, on Friday, ordered a CBI probe by a special investigating team (SIT) into the 98 fake encounter killings in Manipur in the last decade.
A bench of justices Madan B. Lokur and Uday Lalit passed this order on a writ petition filed by the Extra Judicial Execution Victim Families Association (EEVFAM) alleging 1528 fake encounter deaths in Manipur in the last decade and demanding a probe by a special investigation team.
The bench asked the director of the CBI to nominate a group of five officers to go through the records of the cases, lodge necessary FIRs and complete the investigations into the same by December 31, 2017, and prepare charge sheets wherever necessary.
The bench took note of the amicus curiae’s submission that in none of the 98 cases had an FIR been registered against the Manipur police or any uniformed personnel of the armed forces of the Union. On the contrary, FIRs have been registered against the deceased for alleged violations of the law. “Under these circumstances, it would be inappropriate for us to depend upon the Manipur police to carry out an impartial investigation more particularly when some of its own personnel are said to be involved in the fake encounters.”
The bench quoted a ruling of the Constitution bench, holding that an allegation of use of excessive force or retaliatory force by uniformed personnel resulting in the death of any person necessitates a thorough inquiry. It said, “We were of the opinion that even the ‘Dos and Don’ts’ and the ‘Ten Commandments’ of the chief of Army staff believe in this ethos and accept this principle”.
The bench directed the CBI to probe into the 98 encounters and submit a report in the first week of January 2018. It asked the CBI to submit in two weeks, a list of names from which a five-member SIT could be formed for the probe.
On July 8, 2016, the top court had said, “If members of our armed forces are deployed and employed to kill citizens of our country on the mere allegation or suspicion that they are the ‘enemy’, not only the rule of law but our democracy would be in grave danger.” It had said, “The use of excessive force or retaliatory force by the Manipur police or the armed forces of the Union is not permissible.” It had directed that the Indian Army and other paramilitary forces cannot use “excessive and retaliatory force” in Manipur and all such allegations of excessive force must be probed. The present judgment is in continuation of this judgement.
Justice Lokur rejected all the submissions of former attorney general Mukul Rohatgi including that court should not order a probe when the families of the deceased had not complained and come to the court. The bench said, “Access to justice is certainly a human right and it has been given a special place in our constitutional scheme where free legal aid and advice is provided to a large number of people in the country.”
“The primary reason is that for many of the deprived sections of society, access to justice is only a dream. To provide access to justice to every citizen and to make it meaningful, this Court has evolved its public interest jurisprudence where even letter-petitions are entertained in appropriate cases. The history of public interest litigation over the years has settled that the deprived sections of society and the downtrodden such as bonded labourers, trafficked women, homeless persons, victims of natural disasters and others can knock on the doors of our constitutional courts and pray for justice.
This is precisely what has happened in the present petitions where the next of kin could not access justice even in the local courts and the petitioners have taken up their cause in public interest. Our constitutional jurisprudence does not permit us to shut the door on such persons and our constitutional obligation requires us to give justice and succour to the next of kin of the deceased. Consequently, we have no hesitation in directing the constitution of a Special Investigating Team to investigate the cases that we have mentioned above.”
On the contention that some of the incidents are of considerable vintage and at this point of time it may not be appropriate to re-open the issues for investigation, the bench said, “We are not in agreement with the learned attorney general. If a crime has been committed, which involves the death of a person who is possibly innocent, it cannot be over-looked only because of a lapse of time.”
On the submission that there were local pressures and the ground level situation was such that it would not be surprising if the inquiries were biased in favour of the citizens and against the state, the bench said, “If there had been a break-down of the rule of law in the state of Manipur, surely the government of India was under an obligation to take appropriate steps. To suggest that all the inquiries were unfair and motivated is casting very serious aspersions on the independence of the authorities in Manipur at that point of time, which we do not think is at all warranted.”
With regard to 20 deaths reported to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) as a result of fake encounters or the use of excessive or retaliatory force, the bench asked the NHRC to take a decision on these complaints as soon as possible. The bench asked the Manipur government to pay the compensation in those cases where the NHRC had ordered compensation to the victims’ families and registration of FIRs in respect of these complaints.
When it was brought to the court’s notice that most of the states had not set up state Human Rights Commission, the bench said, “We do feel it imperative to bring it to the notice of all state governments that it would be but a small step in the protection of life and liberty of every person in our country if a state Human Rights Commission is constituted at the earliest.”