New Delhi: On Thursday (July 5), the Supreme Court pulled up the government once again for its inaction to probe 1,528 cases of alleged fake encounters in Manipur. The court had directed the Centre to do so in two major orders on July 8, 2016 and July 14, 2017.
The government, on its part, was in court once again with reasons for not having filed a single chargesheet in these cases and seeking additional time for doing so.
The Union of India is represented in this case by Additional Solicitor General Maninder Singh, who, in the recent hearing, managed to get a further extension for the government.
The government has claimed that it has four chargseheets under preparation, which Singh has referred to as “final reports”.
The court has now given the government time till July 27 to file these four chargesheets. This deadline is a further extension from the June 30 deadline given on May 18.
Court reminds investigators to give “respect” to the case
Earlier this year when the counsel for the petitioners told the court that the government was not taking the investigation seriously, Justice U.U. Lalit said in court that petitioners must make peace with the fact that they are just “catalysts,” and now that their case is in court, they must let the investigation take its course.
On Thursday though, Justice Madan B. Lokur reminded the government and the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) that they should give “respect” to the case and see it as a “priority” instead of just another one among their thick backlog.
“Two things have to be appreciated. We are not talking about just another human rights violation here. We are talking about death, which could be murder. So it has to be given its respect. Secondly, we’re talking about death at a large scale. Whichever way you look at it, this has to be given priority,” Justice Lokur said.
Petitioners have repeatedly raised doubts about the manner of the government’s investigation. They told the court the investigating team was filing FIRs against “unknown persons” even where known people – such as members of the armed forces, paramilitary and state police – did actually exist on the record for their involvement in these encounters, The Wire reported in May.
At that time, petitioners also told the court that the new FIRs being filed by the investigators were simply the original FIRs being reproduced – with the victims continuing to show up as accused.
The Supreme Court did take cognisance of this and ordered the government to stop filing FIRs which were simply “re-registered and re-numbered” versions of the old FIRs.
Court tries to clarify the discrepancy in the cases being investigated
The hearing on Thursday also saw the court once again struggling to make sense of the hundreds of cases which have to be investigated.
As The Wire reported in 2017, 1,528 cases of alleged fake encounters have been brought before the Supreme Court for investigation and the court has been trying to find a method to administer justice to these cases, which are all at different levels of prosecution.
In July 2017, the court had drawn up a shortlist of 95 cases for chargesheeting. The government right now has brought that list down to 41 cases.
The two-judge bench of Justices Lokur and Lalit spent considerable time on Thursday cross-referencing the cases which the government was told to investigate last year, and the cases which the government is actually investigating now.
For this, the judges went over several of their previous orders and compared it with the status reports filed by the government. They queried Singh as well as the counsel for the NHRC on how the number of incidents and the number of victims had reduced over the months.
“The question to you, which you have answered before but we are asking again, is how have the number of victims and incidents gone down?” asked Justice Lokur.
The petitioners have been unable to follow the specifics of this case as the government is submitting its status reports only to the judges, without giving a copy to the petitioners.
While these status reports will not be made available to the petitioners, the court came to a working solution and asked the government of India to at least give the petitioners a list of which cases they had dropped from the investigation and the reasons for the same. “Petitioners should know the reduction in cases. For their benefit, make this information available to them,” said Justice Lokur. Singh, for the Union of India, agreed to do this.
The judges also passed further orders on increasing the strength of the special investigation team, which the government had requested for. They have also directed that the NHRC be made part of the investigation team and involved in the writing of the chargesheets in subsequent cases, besides the initial four which are pending.