ALMOST A year after starting its probe, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) finally charged nine Manipur Police Commandos with the cold-blooded murder of Chungkham Sanjit Singh Meitei on 23 July 2009. The premier probe agency concluded that eight of the nine accused were directly involved in killing Sanjit and Thokchom Rabina, an innocent bystander. It charged them with murder under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code, a nonbailable offence.
For the next 18 days after the filing of the chargesheet, none of the accused commandos were arrested. On 27 September, when they applied for bail at the court of Justice BK Sharma, it was granted by Chief Judicial Magistrate (CJM), Imphal (West). CBI, the prosecutor in the case, vehemently opposed the bail petition but the alleged perpetrators of the most publicised fake encounter case in Manipur walked free. Insiders in the state judiciary reveal a growing rift between the CJM, who granted the bail on a non-bailable offence and Judge of the Sessions Court of Manipur (East) PH Surender Singh, who will conduct the trial against the accused. “Not just Justice Surender Singh, but the entire legal fraternity and the public were shocked by how someone could get bail under IPC 302. But I guess anything and everything is possible in a lawless state like Manipur,” says a senior lawyer on condition of anonymity. “This matter is sub judice. If you mention my name, the government is sure to start hounding me,” he added.
Only seven out of the nine accused have been suspended. Hijam Devendra Singh, officer in-charge of the Imphal Bazar unit and Yumnam Munal Singh, the then officer in-charge of the city, continue to function as law enforcement officers.
A positive outcome of Tehelka’s story is that the number of encounters has come down dramatically
Officials in the Ibobi Singh government are now raising questions on whether the CBI should have first sought prosecution sanction from the state government. Y Joykumar Singh, DGP, Manipur, who had once called TEHELKA’s photographic record of the fake encounter (issue dated 8 August 2009) a fabrication, said so at a government function. A lawyer retorts, “I don’t see why CBI was required to seek permission. First, Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh would have never given the permission — look at the way Justice PG Agarwal Commission is proceeding. Second, the crime was not committed on official duty.”
MEANWHILE THE Justice (retired) PG Agarwal Commission, which was constituted by the Ibobi Singh government two days after the Gauhati High Court transferred the case to CBI, has summoned Akoijan Jhalajit Singh, Additional Superintendent of Police (ASP) Imphal (West) in-charge of Manipur Police Commandos and Hijam Devendra Singh, Officer in-charge of Manipur Police Commandos of Imphal Bazar, where the murder took place. Devendra Singh is one of the key accused in the case and has also been been charged under IPC 302.
A positive outcome is that the number of encounters has come down dramatically in the state. “The state government has realised it can no more continue with the random extra-judicial killings after TEHELKA’s exposé,” says Babloo Loitongbam of the Imphal-based Human Rights Alert. However, justice is still a long way off for both Sanjit and Rabina.