A few undercover journalists earlier this year approached an SHO in western UP posing as businessmen. They sought help to fix a business rival and recorded the conversation. The SHO did not bat an eyelid. He offered to implicate the rival in a bank robbery. “He will have some ID papers; we will collect his identity papers and record that they were found on the spot,” he said confidently. Better still, he suggested, the target could just be shot dead. He had jurisdiction over three police stations and could get it done for ₹6 lakh, he said. If other police stations were to get involved, the amount would go up by a couple of lakhs, not more, he assured.
This sting operation followed leakage of an audio clip of a conversation between a police inspector and a criminal on the run. The inspector, suspended after the audio went viral, was heard alerting the criminal that a police team had been deployed to eliminate him. There was nothing he could do any longer, he said, but if the criminal wanted to live, he could get in touch with two ruling party members, who were named by him, to settle the issue.
But neither media reports nor sting operations or public outrage have had any effect on the police in Uttar Pradesh as more fake encounters during the last few weeks have proved.
As many as 67 criminals are said to have been killed in UP after the BJP Government under Yogi Adityanath gave a free hand to the police. Four policemen are also said to have been killed while as many as 393 ‘criminals’ have been injured. And If the state government is to be believed, every death in an encounter with the police was investigated by magistrates, an FIR was lodged, the National Human Rights Commission informed and the post-mortem video-recorded. And final reports submitted by the police were accepted in all cases by the courts and magisterial inquiries gave a clean chit to the police in all cases.
Eyebrows have been raised because it normally takes courts years before accepting final reports. What’s more, the clinical efficiency and speed with which these cases appear to have been investigated raise doubts whether UP Police have perfected the art of defending the trigger-happy among them.
The FIR in fake encounter cases are to be lodged and inquired by independent agencies like the CB-CID and not by the next police station. But in most cases UP Police has completed formalities and kept their records clean. But a serious inquiry would, they agree, unravel the cover-up
Whenever there has been public pressure and media glare, as in the case of the Apple Sales Manager Vivek Tiwari in Lucknow, the facade has however cracked. The initial police version that the constable had been hit by the SUV and he fired in self defence crumbled in the face of CCTV footage and ballistic evidence which showed the constable firing from his pistol from the front and from a standing position.
Pistols, unlike revolvers, need to be loaded before firing, an exercise for which both the hands are required. And since the bullet hit the Apple executive on the chin after going through the windscreen, the police constable would have to be standing in front of the SUV. Had he been hit, he would have lost his balance, fallen on the road or sideways and fired from a lower trajectory.
In the face of overwhelming evidence, the Yogi Government has belatedly come forward with compensation, jobs etc for the family of the deceased executive and the constables have been placed under arrest and a SIT formed to investigate the ‘murder’. The question is why similar action was not initiated in other instances of alleged fake encounters.
Seasoned police officers in Uttar Pradesh admit that the magisterial inquiries have been conducted by Executive Magistrates and not by Judicial Magistrates. As per the guidelines of the Supreme Court, the FIR in fake encounter cases are to be lodged and inquired by independent agencies like the CB-CID and not by the next police station. But in most cases UP Police has completed formalities and kept their records clean. But a serious inquiry would, they agree, unravel the cover-up.
A more serious question that the state government will be confronted with is the discrimination that it has exercised by announcing compensation even before the inquiry is done in the case of the Apple executive while dismissing off hand all other complaints of fake encounters involving the poor, people from the minorities and Dalits.