Bajrangi’s killing in jail raises many questions

The apex court has issued notice to the UP government to submit its time-bound reply on alleged extrajudicial killings in police encounters within two weeks, writes MUDIT MATHUR

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The Uttar Pradesh government has begun the preparation to defend its position before the apex court over alleged extrajudicial killings in police encounters. The matter was brought to light in a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by a Human Right organisation, People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL). The apex court has issued a notice to the state government to submit its time bound reply within two weeks. The PIL sought a probe into such encounter killings in the state in the last one year.

At a time, when high-level consultation was busy defending the quoted utterances of Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Mourya and Additional Director of Police (Law and Order) Anand Kumar, the custodial killing in the Baghpat jail upset the tone of the preparations.

The government faced severe criticism when it failed to protect the life of an under-trial prisoner who was shot dead point blankly inside the premises of Baghpat Jail in western UP, on July 9, despite the early warnings by the deceased’s wife. A life-term convict assailant pumped more than ten bullets on the head and chest of Munna Bagrangi, an under-trial accused of murdering former BJP MLA Krishnanand Rai. He was getting ready to attend a court proceeding when he was killed.

Just nine days before the killing of Munna Bajrangi, wife Seema Singh held a press conference in Lucknow and asked for security cover for her husband. She alleged that some white collared people with connivance of some STF cops are conspiring to eliminate her husband in judicial custody and they had attempted to poison him in jail through their under trial mole. Bajrangi was named in the murder case of BJP MLA Krishnanand Rai, 13 years ago and facing trial in about 40 other heinous criminal cases under the charges of murder and extortion.

“Nobody is safe at his home or on roads. Even jails are not remained safe in UP,” commented senior congress leader and veteran parliamentarian Pramod Tiwari in talk with Tehelka. “In BJP rule, the law and order situation has become even worse than before,” he added. While criticising poor law and order situation, the State president of Samjwadi Party, Naresh Uttam said, “There is no law and order or rule of law. Even police sub-inspectors are not safe in police station, stabbed to death and constables are killed. Now, high security jails witness gruesome daylight murder.” “The governance in state totally failed in the hands of BJP,” he contended.

Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has directed stern action against jail officials and assured that guilty would not be spared. Spokesperson of Aam Aadmi party, Vaibhav Maheshwari said, “There is anarchy all over the state. A prisoner is killed clod blooded in its premises. Nobody is safe outside either. There must be fair and impartial probe and entire case must be worked out at the earliest.”

On July 2, the Supreme Court bench comprising Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices A.M. Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud has issued notice on the PIL for examining allegations of extrajudicial killings in police encounters and the role of Uttar Pradesh government. The PIL has also sought a probe into encounter killings in the state in accordance with apex court guidelines already enforced on the subject.

Petitioner even placed on records a news report published by some media organisations. The report examined cases of fourteen of the persons killed in police encounters in the state and found several patterns including the similarity in the language of all FIRs; the mention of accomplices who could not be traced; marks of police torture in the body, etc. It further reported that out of twelve families interviewed, only in one case family’s statement has been recorded for inquiry.

Petitioner also cited that in an interview to a news channel in June 2017, UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath had said, “Agar apradh karenge toh thok diye jayenge (If they commit crimes, they will be killed).” PUCL also quoted a news item carried out in March 2018.

The report also highlighted concerns raised by the National Human Rights Commission and relatives of the deceased persons regarding the likelihood of fake encounters, the abuse of power by police authorities as well as the apparent support by the State government,” petition argued. Petitioner cited Adityanath statement in response to opposition’s concern over the allegations of brazen powers given to police for encounter spree. Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath had said, “Everyone should be guaranteed security, but those who want to disturb peace of the society and believe in the gun, should be given the answer in the language of the gun itself.” 

According to a news report on  September 16, 2017, that the ADJ Law and Order, Anand Kumar had stated that police encounter in Uttar Pradesh were as per the “desires of the government, expectations of public and according to the constitutional and legal power accorded to the police.” The report further quoted Deputy CM Keshav Prasad Maurya saying. “Today criminals are terrified with the thought that either they will have to give up crime or leave U.P or may be even leave this world.”

Quoting the example of a gym trainer of Noida who was reportedly critically injured in a police encounter on February 5 2018, the petitioner referred to the observations expressed by the NHRC in a press release issued the same day: “The Commission has observed that it seems that the police personnel in the State of Uttar Pradesh are feeling free, misusing their power in the light of an undeclared endorsement given by the higher ups. They are using their privileges to settle scores with the people. The police force is to protect the people; these kind of incidents would send a wrong message to the society. Creating an atmosphere of fear is not the correct way to deal with the crime. In this particular case, the injured man is not an offender. He was travelling with his friends when the rowdy act done by the delinquent SI has gravely violated his right to life and liberty.”

Referring the dictum of the Supreme Court, that clearly said that “the state cannot adopt such means, which are against the constitutional principles to fight with terrorism or hardened criminals. Such extrajudicial killings in the name of encounters were considered as ‘state-sponsored terrorism’ and could not be permitted as it would be against the Rule of Law.”  The statements made by the Chief Minister and other authorities on the face of it violate the restrictions imposed by this Hon’ble Court on State’s duty while dealing with the criminals, the petition emphasised.

Petitioner of PUCL urged that the investigation should be handed over to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in addition to a monitoring committee headed by a retired Supreme Court judges to inquire into the role played by the state machinery in the act of commission of police encounters.