New Delhi: Saying there should be an “impartial enquiry” into the alleged encounter killing of four accused in the rape-and-murder case of a Hyderabad veterinarian, the Supreme Court on Thursday ordered a judicial enquiry.
The four men – Mohammed Arif, Chintakunta Chennakeshavulu, Jollu Shiva and Jollu Naveen – were killed on December 6, when police had taken them to the crime scene for reconstruction and retrieval of material evidence. The police said that the accused attacked officers with stick and stones and snatched firearms from them. They were killed in retaliatory firing, the police said.
An apex court bench headed by Chief Justice S.A. Bobde was hearing two public interest litigations seeking an independent probe into the deaths.
“We are of the considered view that there should be an impartial inquiry into the encounter deaths of the four people accused in the gangrape and murder of a veterinarian in Telangana,” the bench, also comprising Justices S.A. Nazeer and Sanjiv Khanna, said, according to news agency PTI.
The judicial probe will be headed by retired Supreme Court Justice V.S. Sirpurkar, while former Bombay HC Justice Rekha Baldota and former CBI director Karthikeyan will also be members of the panel, according to LiveLaw.
The panel was asked to conclude its investigation within six months and submit a report. According to reports, the Supreme Court said that no other court or authority will conduct an enquiry into the encounter killings till the panel’s report is submitted. Proceedings in the Telangana high court, which took cognizance of the killing, and a suo motu enquiry initiated by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) are “effectively stayed”.
CJI Bobde remarked that the people had the “right to know the truth” and “objective investigation was necessary”, according to LiveLaw.
Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for the Telangana government, said that the four men were killed in retaliatory fire, which was opened in self-defence. Adding that the Telangana high court and the NHRC had taken cognizance of the killing, he said the Telangana government is not “opposed to an impartial inquiry into the incident”.
According to LiveLaw, petitioners G.S. Mani and Pradeep Kumar Yadav have placed great reliance on the 16 guidelines issued by the apex court in the PUCL case judgment on probing police encounter killings.
They claim that the encounter was “staged” to divert the attention of the public from “lapses” by the police, which they say led to the gangrape and murder of the woman on November 28. Several media reports said that the police refused to act on a complaint filed by the woman’s parents for four hours, telling them that their daughter may have “eloped”.
The petitioners also drew the attention of the court to the “body language” of Cyberabad police commissioner V.C. Sajjanar during the press conference announcing the death of the four accused. He did not seem to have any “regrets over the killing”, the petitioners said. Sajjanar was the superintendent of police in Warangal when three men, accused in attacking two women with acid, were killed in a similar “encounter” in 2008.
“The public are feting the police officials with garlands and sweets for the encounter. If such activities are allowed, there will be no meaning for rule of law,” the petitioners said, according to LiveLaw.
On December 7, a day after the encounter, CJI Bobde had remarked that “revenge is not justice“. Speaking at an event in Jodhpur, he said that while there is no doubt that the criminal justice system must reconsider “its attitudes towards the time it takes to dispose of a criminal matter”, added that justice cannot be “instant”.
“But I don’t think justice can ever be and ought to be instant. And justice must never ever take the form of revenge. I believe justice loses its character of justice if it becomes revenge.”