New Delhi: Taking into account representations of the families of nine victims of ‘extra judicial killings’ in Uttar Pradesh and the conclusions of the fact-finding team of Citizens Against Hate, which had pointed out the deaths of eight others under similar circumstances, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has directed the chief secretary and the director general of police (DGP) of the state to “submit all the requisite reports to the Commission in 23 cases mentioned in their report” and ordered its own director general (investigations) to constitute a team to probe all 17 cases.
The order came after the families of the victims, represented by senior advocate Prashant Bhushan, and representatives from Citizens Against Hate, met NHRC chairperson H.L. Dattu on May 7 and apprised him of their complaint and findings.
During the meeting, the families had presented their complaint about the nine cases of extra judicial-killings in UP along with supporting affidavits that countered the police version of alleged “encounters”. The fact finding report by civil society organisations had delved into eight other cases where families were not able to give their statements or affidavits fearing threats and intimidation by the police.
A statement issued by Bhushan and Citizens Against Hate said, “The complaints highlighted that the alleged police encounters were not spontaneous shoot outs, rather instances of planned and pre-meditated extra-judicial killings.”
Pointing out how “the encounter narrative of the police showed a repetition of sequence of events with a strikingly similar pattern followed in each of these alleged encounters”, the statement had also noted that the complaint made to Dattu highlighted similar circumstances, like abduction of the victims before the incident in most of the alleged encounter killings.
The complainants had urged the NHRC to take serious notice of these killings, order an immediate impartial investigation in the 17 cases presented before it and take strict action against the concerned police officials in accordance with Supreme Court and NHRC guidelines on encounter deaths.
NHRC order and notice issued on May 9
The statement said that after scrutinising both the complaints and the supporting documents – which included FIRs, post-mortem reports, general diary entries – the human rights panel had on May 9 issued an order and notice to the chief secretary and the DGP stating that that the documents prima facie showed that there may be chances of failure on the part of the state to adhere to the guidelines issued by the Supreme Court and the Commission on encounter deaths. It had also observed that the police authorities may have exceeded the jurisdiction at the time of alleged encounter killings.
The Commission, the statement said, had taken suo-motu cognizance of the matter on November 22, 2017, and in an order issued to the government of Uttar Pradesh, observed that the police personnel appeared to be misusing their powers in the light of an undeclared endorsement given by those in power.
Five member investigating team to probe 17 extra judicial killings
In its notice, the Commission had also stated that “considering the gravity of the matter”, it has urged its director general (investigation) to constitute an investigating team of five members, consisting of one senior superintendent of police, two deputy SPs and two inspectors to conduct a fact finding enquiry of all the 17 cases where alleged encounter killings had taken place by recording the statements of affected families and other necessary examination relating to the alleged incident of encounter deaths and to submit its report within four weeks.
Out of these 17 cases, the Commission said, 15 were already registered with it and in these reports have been called for. As for the remaining two cases, it said they are being “hereby registered by issuing notices to the Chief Secretary and the DGP of the State of Uttar Pradesh with a direction to submit detailed reports within six weeks”.
IOs in all 17 cases told to submit status of investigation, produce all documents before Commission
The Commission also directed the DGP of UP to give necessary directions to the concerned investigating officers in all the 17 cases of alleged encounter killings to submit the status of investigation and produce documents pertaining to cases mentioned above before the Commission. It spelt out that these documents must particularly include (i) FIRs registered in the cases; (ii) relevant chargesheets; (iii) general/daily diary register entry of the relevant police station, of the day of incident; (iv) wireless log book record of the relevant PS (or district police wireless HQ, where such log is maintained) of the day of incident; (v) log book records of the day, of government vehicles used by all police officers engaged in the said encounters; (vi) all call details records (CDR) of mobile phones used by the deceased, if any, and by all police officers engaged in the encounter one week prior to date of encounter to one week following it.
All these documents are to be submitted before the Commission within six weeks. The panel would be taking up the matter against after eight weeks.
1,200 encounters, 50 encounter killings in UP since March 2017
NHRC also noted that “it has been alleged in the complaint that the State of Uttar Pradesh has unleashed a wave of victimisation of innocent people under the guise of allegedly maintaining law and order. According to media reports and independent fact findings, there are as many as 50 cases of encounter killings in Uttar Pradesh since March 2017″.
Families of victims harassed for filing complaints
Further, it had recorded that “it has further been alleged that since present dispensation came in Govt. in the state of Uttar Pradesh allegedly 1200 encounters have taken place, many victim families harassed and victimised by police when they have filed police complaints against those brutal extra judicial killings.”
NHRC noted that it was also being said that the “situation leads to complete impunity for the police in the State sponsored killings, in as much as, no protection, compensation or procedural remedies for the victims are available to the families who are having no defence to protect themselves from the ghastly acts alleged to have performed by the State machinery.”
The panel had also put on record that the complaint had averred that the Supreme Court and NHRC from time to time had issued specific guidelines to prevent such killings. “Nevertheless, this illegal execution continues, as alleged, with seeming impunity to the violators.”
Stating that according to official data released by the police, there were 1,144 encounters in Uttar Pradesh from March 2017 till January 2018 in which 34 criminals were killed and 2,744 were arrested, the panel said the complainants were all the next of kin of the deceased.
Similar circumstances in most alleged encounter killings
The Commission noted that the complainants had alleged that there were strikingly similar circumstances in most of the alleged encounter killings. “Seven out of nine cases mentioned in the complaint, the eye witness accounts tell of police in uniform or in plain clothes abducting the victims a day before they are allegedly killed in an armed confrontation.”
Further, it was alleged that “in three out of nine cases, the victim family was aware that the victim was in police custody”. In these cases, the men were first shown to have absconded from custody and thereafter it was stated that the police received information about their reported illegal activities following which they were “shown as being killed in an alleged encounter.”
Most victims bore torture marks, were shot from close range
The NHRC also noted that in seven out of nine cases, there were torture marks on the body of the victims. “Post-mortem reports state that the bodies had tattooing marks and blackening of skin around bullet holes indicating that the shooting had taken place at very close range.”
Also, it observed that “six out of nine cases demonstrate hits to the body, head, face or chest which in most of the shoot-out is unlikely to happen”.
Further, the panel had noted that in five out of nine cases, the police had put the victims on most wanted list with rewards on their heads, just after the incident. So were the killings conducted to earn the reward money?
Police version on sequence of event not credible
The rights panel also noted that “sequence of events which lead to encounter stated by the police in FIRs recorded by them tend to be identical. The pattern of injuries received by police officials also show similar trend of minimal injuries. In all cases, there is / are unknown criminal(s) who manages to run away in an unbelievable fashion. It is alleged in the complaint that there is lack of public eye witnesses to the encounter in the police claim but actually there were many witnesses who had seen the victims being taken away by police just prior to being killed in encounter.”
Police reprisal also alleged
The NHRC also recorded that “allegations of police reprisal have been mentioned in the complaint whereby it is stated that families and witnesses account or statement is neither recorded nor investigated”, and to the contrary, witnesses or relatives were issued either direct threats or were cautioned that they would implicated in “false cases” if they pressed on with the charges.
No FIR against policemen who used fire-arms
The NHRC also noted that “the complaint unravels the violation of due process by police officials investigating the alleged instances of police encounters” as FIRs were not registered in any of the cases against the concerned police officers who had used firearms that led to death in an alleged encounter.
Pointing to another glaring lapse it said, “in most of the cases complained above, victim family was not informed by the state authorities at the earliest (about the killing) and information reached them through villagers or news reports. “In none of the 9 cases, the investigation was transferred to independent bodies such as state CID departments, forensic examination of the crime scene to collect evidentiary material.”
Both complaints clubbed for sake of brevity and convenience
Having gone through the complaints of the nine killings as also the eight extra judicial killings, the NHRC said since “allegations so put forth in both the cases are similar in nature and arising out of same sets of facts and against the same respondent state”, therefore it has decided to club them “for sake of brevity and convenience”.
It noted that both these complaints were “supported with various documents which prima-facie lead to show that there may be chances of failure on the part of the state to adhere to the guidelines issued from time to time by the Hon’ble Supreme Court as also this Commission”.
Therefore, it said, “there may be chances of exceeding the jurisdiction by the police authorities of the state of Uttar Pradesh at the time of alleged encounter killings”.