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No Helmet, Bike Without Chassis, Dilapidated Road: Questions Galore Following ‘Encounter’ of Asad and Ghulam in UP

“The question asked here in our country is not whether it was a true chance encounter or not but the question asked is whether the man who was killed was criminal or not which is a completely fluid concept,” said IPS officer Amitabh Thakur.
Bihar: Minor son of Slain RTI Activist Dies After Setting Himself Afire to Protest Police Inaction in Father's Killing

Representational Image. Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Lucknow: The alleged encounter killing of gangster-turned-politician Atiq Ahmed's son Asad, who was wanted in the Umesh Pal murder case, in Uttar Pradesh's Jhansi, is not the only incident where fingers have been pointed at the police. There have been several other such instances, including the 2018 shooting of Apple executive Vivek Tiwari in the posh Gomti Nagar area of Lucknow. This incident led to outrage over the state government's handling of law and order, and the role of the police came under scrutiny again in the 2020 Kanpur shootout, in which gangster Vikas Dubey was killed.

Asad Ahmad and his father were wanted in connection with the murder of lawyer Umesh Pal, who was an eyewitness to the killing of Raju Pal, a Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) lawmaker. Umesh Pal was killed in February and Raju Pal in 2005.

Asad and an alleged accomplice Ghulam were tracked down by UP Police's Special Task Force in 'Operation Jhansi' after a tip that they were on the move. The duo carried a bounty of Rs 5 lakh each.

They were intercepted as Asad was riding a motorcycle and, according to the police, both were killed in the exchange of gunfire that followed.

"They (Asad and Ghulam) were travelling across several states after the Umesh Pal murder incident. We received a tip-off and zeroed in on them in Jhansi. They fired on the police team after which the STF team shot them down," Anant Dev Tiwari, the Deputy Inspector General of UP Police and UP special task force (STF), told the media.

Commenting on the 'encounter', Vibhuti Narain Rai, former Director General of UP, speaking to NewsClick said, "If we look individually at each encounter in Uttar Pradesh in the last few years, we will find most of the encounters are staged. More than a dozen teams of Uttar Pradesh Police and STF were trying to find them. Why would a wanted murder accused not wear a helmet to hide his identity? How come dead people have pistols in their hands when they died in retaliation? Like before, questions will also arise in this encounter sooner or later. People will definitely come up and claim the duo were picked up from such and such place by the police," said Rai, adding that it is not an isolated case of high-handedness but from time to time, “questions have been raised about the credibility and legality of police encounters” in Uttar Pradesh.

The testimonies of eyewitnesses and family members of those who were killed in the ‘encounters’ claim that most of these killings could be cold-blooded murders – where no gun battle has apparently taken place.

Meanwhile, former Uttar Pradesh cadre IPS officer Amitabh Thakur and his wife Nutan Thakur have sent a 12-point complaint to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to look into the alleged illegalities by UP Police in the Asad's encounter.

In this complaint accessed by NewsClick, serious objections have been raised about the encounter. These objections include questions such as whether both died on the spot or in the hospital. Pictures of Asad show him lying beneath the handle of the bike, which, they say, is not possible in the case of an encounter. If the encounter was real, Asad would have been lying over the bike and not under it. The deceased have been shown holding guns in their hands in the picture, which is not possible in an encounter, according to the medico-legal theory, stated the complaint.

Besides, the former IPS officer has raised various other doubts such as the timing of the FIR over the so-called encounter and demanded a proper probe into it.

"The literal meaning of encounter is a chance meeting and the subsequent happenings but in our country, unfortunately, it has been changed to mean a fully prepared set of affairs. Thus, the question asked here in our country is not whether it was a true chance encounter or not but the question asked is whether the man who was killed was criminal or not which is a completely fluid concept and it acts against the basic concept of human rights, giving police illegal authority to kill a person and justify socially," Amitabh Thakur told NewsClick.

The former IPS officer further said, "In the past, after strict action in Gujrat encounters, police encounters had reduced drastically, but unfortunately for the last few years, judicial action has not come in a big manner making the policemen feel quite safe in doing this illegal act of killings."

Opposition Parties Train Their Guns on BJP

Political parties including Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party called for a high-level investigation into the encounter killing of Asad and Ghulam.

The BSP chief said, “Many types of discussions are underway on the killing of Prayagraj's Atiq Ahmed's son and another person in a police encounter today. People feel that their apprehension of a repeat of the Vikas Dubey incident has come true.”

“Therefore, a high-level inquiry is necessary so that the complete facts and truth of the incident can come before the public,” she said.

Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav accused the ruling BJP of using 'fake encounters' to divert attention from 'real issues'. Yadav, a former UP chief minister, tweeted shortly after state police confirmed the killing of Asad Ahmad in an encounter in Jhansi district.

"By conducting fake encounters, the BJP government is trying to divert attention from the real issues. The BJP does not believe in the court at all. Today's and recent encounters should also be thoroughly investigated and the culprits should not be spared," Yadav tweeted.

Glaring Loopholes in FIR

NewsClick perused the FIR, news reports and government press releases to understand if there is any truth to the 'encounter' claim. It has been stated in the official version that Asad and Ghulam Umar were confronted near the Parichha embankment, they “abused” the policemen loudly and opened fire at the policemen with the intent to kill.

Based on the FIR filed by STF deputy superintendent of police, Navendu Kumar at Badagaon police station of Jhansi, his team tried to capture Atiq Ahmad’s son Asad Ahmad and his accomplice Ghulam alive, but when the STF team cornered them, Asad and Ghulam fell on the ground and began firing with foreign-make weapons and then were killed in "retaliatory action".

"The members of both the (STF) teams, who surrounded them, tried to reach within their firing range without caring for their lives and tried to catch them alive, but had to return fire in self-defence in view of the indiscriminate firing from the miscreants," the FIR accessed by NewsClick reads.

Dr Narendra Sengar, one of the three doctors who conducted the post-mortem examination, said that the two had been dead for nearly 90 minutes when they were brought to the hospital.

Meanwhile, the Yogi Adityanath-led BJP government of the state has praised the killings of Asad and Gulam and congratulated the UP Police and STF teams. However, questions have been raised over the claims of the Uttar Pradesh Special Task Force.

A Few Crucial Questions

1. After the encounter on April 13, 2023, the STF team head Navendu Kumar revealed a picture of Asad and Gulam lying near a bush. Close observation of the picture clearly shows that dust has accumulated on the rear seat of the vehicle, while according to the police, two people were riding this bike.

If there were two people on this bike, then how was the driver's seat relatively clean, while so much dust had accumulated on the back seat, as if no one had been sitting on it?

2. After the Umesh Pal murder case, rewards of Rs 5 lakh each were announced by the Uttar Pradesh Police for the five accused including Asad and Ghulam. More than a dozen teams of Uttar Pradesh Police and STF were trying to nab them. In such a situation, usually, the criminal hides his identity by changing his appearance. Looking at the pictures released after the encounter in Jhansi, it seems that Asad and Ghulam did the exact opposite. Were Asad, dressed in kurta pyjama and a round cap, and Ghulam in a T-shirt-lower and a round cap, waiting for the police to recognise them, without a helmet or any attempt at hiding their faces?

3. The number plate was not found on the bike that the STF team “recovered” from Asad and Ghulam after the encounter. In such a situation, it is possible that the bike had been stolen. Every vehicle has an engine number, but this one does not have one. In such a situation, it will be difficult for the police to identify the bike's owner. Is this too convenient?

4. Police said that Asad and Ghulam were hiding near Parichha Dam in Jhansi. This place is about 2 kilometres away from the highway. The road to reach there is in such a dilapidated condition that it is very unlikely for any vehicle to run faster than the speed of 10 or 20 kilometres per hour. In such a situation, the question arises that when the STF team was chasing the duo, how could they reach so far?

183 'Criminals' Killed, 10,000 Encounters in Six Years

The police have conducted – according to the state government’s figures till April 13, 2023 – 10, 900 ‘encounters’, killing a total of 183 people and leaving 5,046 injured. At least 15 policemen also died in the ongoing killing spree in the state.

Of the 13 policemen killed in encounters since March 2017, eight were ambushed in a narrow lane of Kanpur by the aides of notorious gangster Vikas Dubey.

However, the unofficial figures are much higher, where the total number of shootouts is estimated to be over 17,000 so far. These ‘encounters' entail shooting at people, who may or may not be criminals or gangsters, without “following due process of law”.

The National Police Commission (1979), the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) established in 2003, and the Supreme Court judgment in the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) case in 2014 have all clearly prohibited the killing of people in such encounters.

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