Judgments show the law is heavily, even fatally, loaded against police officers found guilty of ‘fake encounters.
As videos of the alleged police encounter of eight SIMI men who broke out of the Bhopal Central Jail continue to raise demands for a judicial probe, a series of Supreme Court judgments show that the law is heavily, even fatally, loaded against police officers found guilty of ‘fake encounters’.
One of the judgments even recommends death penalty to “trigger-happy” cops and compares them to Nazi war criminals at Nuremberg trials who tried to brush off their culpability on their superior officers.
“We are of the view that in cases where a fake encounter is proved against policemen in a trial, they must be given death sentence, treating it as the rarest of rare cases. Fake ‘encounters’ are nothing but cold blooded, brutal murder by persons who are supposed to uphold the law,” the Supreme Court held in Prakash Kadam versus Ramprasad Vishwanath Gupta on May 13, 2011.
“The ‘encounter’ philosophy is a criminal philosophy, and all policemen must know this,” Justice Katju, who wrote the judgment, observed. The case concerned policemen used as contract killers.
The 2011 judgment became a precedent for a larger Bench of three judges led by then Chief Justice of India R.M. Lodha in the PUCL case, which dealt with 99 encounters committed by the Mumbai police between 1995 and 1997.
In the 2014 judgment, the apex court empathised with the police force, saying their job was tough: “We are not oblivious to the fact that police in India have to perform a difficult and delicate task, particularly, when many hardcore criminals, extremists, terrorists, drug peddlers, smugglers who have organised gangs…”
But that did not mean the police overlook the rule of law, the Supreme Court cautioned.
It listed 16 guidelines to be mandatorily complied by the State in case of police encounter deaths. This included a scientific, well-documented and decisive investigation by an independent agency. The fairness of the probe was open to challenge before a Sessions Court.
More importantly, if the Bhopal encounter videos are found to be true, it shows that the officers involved violated the Supreme Court judgment that immediate medical aid should be administered to the suspects shot in an encounter.
Further, the Supreme Court laid out that the intelligence tip-off leading to the encounter should be recorded and an FIR registered.
The court held that “killings in police encounters require independent investigation” to restore the public’s faith in the police force.
“It does not matter whether the victim was a common person or a militant or a terrorist, nor does it matter whether the aggressor was a common person or the State. The law is the same for both and is equally applicable to both… This is the requirement of a democracy,” the Supreme Court held in a July 2016 judgment on 1,528 cases of alleged fake encounters involving the Army and the police in Manipur