Supreme Court turns the heat on fake encounters by Gujarat Police

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Apex court asks Justice (retd) MM Shah to supervise the probe into the 22 alleged fake encounters, including that of Sameer Khan, exposed by TEHELKA in 2007

True lies: The TEHELKA story that exposed the fake encounter of Sameer Khan

IN A severe indictment of the Gujarat government, the Supreme Court on 25 January ordered a probe into all encounter killings from 2003 to 2006. Prominent citizens including poet and lyricist Javed Akhtar, senior journalist BG Verghese and social activist Shabnam Hashmi had filed separate PILs seeking an inquiry into the 22 alleged fake encounters. Akhtar’s PIL dealt with the killing of Sameer Khan, which was exposed by TEHELKA nearly five years ago (Fake Killings: Unwritten State Policy, by Ashish Khetan and Harinder Baweja, 19 May 2007).

The exposé showed how Khan was killed in a fake encounter on 22 October 2002 by the Gujarat Police and branded a Jaish-e-Mohammad terrorist involved in a conspiracy to kill Chief Minister Narendra Modi, VHP leader Pravin Togadia and BJP leader LK Advani. Later, the Gujarat High Court held that Khan was not a terrorist and had not been to Pakistan for training.

The police had claimed that Khan snatched a service revolver and fired and was killed by the police in self-defence. However, the TEHELKA investigation found that the trajectory of the bullet that hit Khan’s temple proves that he was shot while lying on the ground. He was shot at point-blank range and was not trying to flee.

Senior Gujarat Police officer Tirth Raj, who conducted an inquiry in his capacity as IG, State Human Rights Commission, submitted a report in which he referred to the involvement of PK Mishra, then Principal Secretary to Narendra Modi, and the Director General of Police. “There was one Mishra, secretary to the chief minister, who called up Chittaranjananjan Singh and pressurised him to burn the reports he had written to JCP, Crime, PP Pandey, and replace them with fake ones… Everybody was involved in the cover- up from the DGP’s office to the CMO,” he admitted to TEHELKA investigators in a sting operation.

Khan’s was the first in a series of encounter killings of “terrorists” in Gujarat. Nine more “terrorists” were eliminated by infamous encounter cop DG Vanzara over the next four years. The apex court has now asked retired Supreme Court judge Justice MM Shah, who was already appointed by the Gujarat government to monitor encounter cases in 2010, to supervise the probe into the 22 alleged fake encounters and submit a report in three months’ time.

“Prima facie, many of the cases seem to be fake. The right of a policeman is not different than a private citizen’s (when it comes to murder),” says Nitya Ramakrishnan, one of the lawyers in the matter. Verghese, who is one of the petitioners in the case, is buoyed by the order. “This is a substantive step forward. I have been worried about the case getting dragged on for years,” he says. Prashant Bhushan, another lawyer involved in the case, points out that the commission is expected to file a report within three months. “This will certainly help in getting a speedy result,” he says.

However, Hashmi is apprehensive. “If Justice Shah is going to be dependent on the Gujarat Police who have been engaged in the encounters themselves, how is he going to decide if a re-investigation is required or not?” she asks.

Though Justice Shah has been given the power to appoint officers and seek records from the state government and the Human Rights Commission, Ramakrishnan points out that since the creation of the commission, no findings have come out. Will Justice Shah now make any key revelations? We will come to know in three months’ time.

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