In July last year, the court ordered a probe suspecting use of ‘excessive or retaliatory force’ by armed forces or the police.

Supreme Court of India (Photo: File)

 Supreme Court of India (Photo: File)

New Delhi: In a landmark judgment protecting human rights, the Supreme Court on Friday ordered a CBI probe into 98 fake encounter killings in Manipur during the last decade and called the NHRC a “toothless tiger” for its failure to check the alleged violations.

The court dismissed attempts by the Army and the state government to seek internal probes into the incidents that took place between 2000 and 2012. The state was declared a “disturbed area” under the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) during this period.

A Bench of Justices Madan B. Lokur and Uday Lalit passed the order on a petition filed by Extra-judicial Execution Victim Families Association (Eevfam), seeking a probe into 1,528 alleged fake encounter deaths.

The Bench asked CBI director to nominate a group of five officers to go through the records of the cases, lodge necessary FIRs and complete investigations by December 31.

“Undoubtedly, the protection and preservation of human rights is one of the most important aspects of the rule of law,” it said.

On the contention that court should not order a probe when the families of the deceased had not complained and come to the court, the Bench said “access to justice is certainly a human right and it has been given a special place in our constitutional scheme where free legal aid and advice is provided to people”.

The apex court dismissed pleas for not reopening old cases and said, “If a crime has been committed, which involves the death of a person, who is possibly innocent, it cannot be over-looked only because of a lapse of time.”

Pulling up the state government for inaction, the court directed it to pay compensation in those cases where the NHRC had ordered relief and registration of FIRs. Cases related to 20 deaths were reported to the NHRC.

The bench also reminded all state governments to set up human rights commissions at the earliest.

“We do feel it imperative to bring it to the notice of all state governments that it would be but a small step in the protection of life and liberty of every person in our country if a state human rights commission is constituted at the earliest,” the bench said.

In July last year, the apex court had directed a thorough probe into the alleged fake encounter killings in Manipur saying the use of “excessive or retaliatory force” by the armed forces or police was not permissible in “disturbed areas”.

The Army had told the court in April that the judicial probes conducted into the alleged extra-judicial killings were “biased” due to local factors.

On the court’s direction, the Centre probed 282 cases of deaths and found that 70 matters were related to the Army and Assam Rifles, while the rest were linked to police.