PIL ‘Exposes Holes’ in Assam Encounter Killings Probe Reports
The Assam Police has been in the news for past few days for two reasons. On the one hand, it has cracked some gruesome murder and kidnapping cases in Guwahati, on the other, it did encounters consecutively for two days.
Shah Alam Talukdar, the prime accused in the sensational Ranjit Bora murder case, died in a police encounter. According to the police, a handcuffed Alam fled from custody and was shot dead in his hiding the next day. Similarly, a notorious bike lifter Santosh Jaiswal was shot dead by the police in “retaliatory firing” in Charaideo district.
The police have earned public praise after cracking cases like the sensational Guwahati double murder, where the prime accused Bandana Kalita and two other co-accused were nabbed, and the kidnapping-murder of Biswajit Hazarika in the state capital.
Police action has also been questioned in numerous encounters after the second NDA government was formed in May 2021. The police launched several drives against drugs, militancy and other crimes under new chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, with several reported encounters.
Arif Jwadder, a Delhi-based lawyer and activist from Assam, filed a PIL in the Gauhati High Court (HC) on December 8, 2021, seeking records of police encounters since May 2021 and an independent investigation into the matter by an agency like the CBI or an SIT under the court. The court disposed the PIL in January-end noting that investigation into the alleged ‘fake encounters’ are under way.
Mentioning his one-and-a-half-year journey of seeking a probe into the encounters, Jwadder told Newsclick that he first filed an application in the NHRC on July 10, 2021, listing about 10 cases where Muslims and tribals were killed. After several follow-up mails, the NHRC mailed him almost a week later on July 16 informing that the application had been accepted.
After the local media reported about Jwadder approaching the NHRC, an AHRC member secretary told reporters it had issued a suo motu notice to the Assam government on July 7. However, an RTI application filed by Jwadder revealed that the AHRC had sent the notice on July 12.
According to law, either the NHRC or any state human rights commission can investigate a matter and whoever starts it first, will continue probing it. Another RTI application filed by Jwadder showed that the NHRC had sent a notice to the AHRC, Assam DGP and the state government over the matter.
Noticing slow progress, Jwadder filed the PIL listing more encounters. The PIL mentioned 28 deaths and 48 injuries in 80 encounters from May 2021 to December 2021. During the first hearing on January 3, 2022, Assam advocate general Devajit Saikia sought time from the court.
The first government affidavit provided to the court on February 21 contained an annexure listing inquiries into 16 encounters.
Jwadder said that the PIL was based on the Supreme Court (SC) guidelines issued in PUCL versus State of Maharashtra, 2014. The Assam encounters, according to him, should have been probed as per the guidelines but they were “violated”.
Some of the guidelines mention independent investigation into any encounter anywhere in the country by a police officer of, at least, one rank higher than the one supervised it. Besides, an investigation must be conducted by a different police station than the one under whose jurisdiction the encounter took place, Jwadder added.
According to Jwadder, the annexure contains the reports of magisterial inquiries, not independent investigations. “Magisterial inquiries into police encounters are routine involving registering the doctor’s report, forensic reports and the police version. They are not independent investigations into a serious matter like this.”
The inquiry reports into six cases listed in the affidavit leave ample scope for questioning the encounters, Jwadder said. “For example, the magisterial report about the killing of six DNLA (Dimasa National Liberation Army) militants in Karbi Anglong mentions 15 minutes of firing between the police team and them."
While the police “found arms and ammunition beside the dead bodies, the fingerprints (as received from the state finger print bureau, CID) on the arms did not match with that of the deceased. How is it possible”? Jwadder asked.
Another magisterial report in the affidavit mentions the shooting of one Sayed Ali alias Patha, accused of rape and murder, in Morigaon district.
“Ali was taken to the crime spot for investigation from the Jagiroad Police Station around 3 am. On the way, he requested the police to stop the car to attend the call of nature. When he was taken to the nearby paddy field, the accused tried to escape and was shot at his legs in the presence of the additional superintendent of police.”
However, the “doctor’s opinion mentioned in the report reveals that Ali was shot at left leg from the front and the right leg from the back”, Jwadder added.
Another report mentions the death of one Bubu Konwar in a “so-called encounter” in Sibsagar district. “According to the police version, Konwar, accompanied by another man, was shooting at them while fleeing on a two-wheeler,” Jwadder said.
The inquiry officer “wrote in the report that there were no neutral eyewitnesses as the incident occurred in a remote area”. Jwadder said, “It appears like a Bollywood film story. More such reports are mentioned in the affidavit, which increase the doubts over such encounters.”
Jwadder filed a counter affidavit emphasising the SC guidelines, which require separate FIRs against policemen involved in every such encounter and independent probes. “Instead, the police had filed FIRs against those killed in the encounters,” he added.
In another affidavit filed in September 2022, the state government said that 171 encounters involving 56 deaths had occurred in Assam since May 2021.
The AHRC, which recently fined two cops guilty of killing a theft accused in an exchange of fire in 2021, closed the case (of encounters as discussed above) suo motu on January 12, 2022, citing the PIL despite without any HC notice, Jwadder said.
Get the latest reports & analysis with people's perspective on Protests, movements & deep analytical videos, discussions of the current affairs in your Telegram app. Subscribe to NewsClick's Telegram channel & get Real-Time updates on stories, as they get published on our website.