Human Rights

Police encounters: court questions veracity

Mumbai: With the arrest of encounter specialist, Inspector Pradeep Sharma in Mumbai the question is being asked whether police really comes face to face in fighting with the terrorists or criminals. If yes, why is it that so far no policeman has been killed by criminals in encounters or even injured despite the fact that the criminals or terrorists are also armed with lethal and sophisticated weapons?

This question was asked by Justice Agyar while hearing a case in which Sudama Paole, sharp shooter of former mafia don, Arun Gowly’s gang and one of his companions were killed by Inspector Vijay Salskar and his team in an encounter. This encounter story was challenged by Paole’s family members in court and during the hearing it was disclosed that Paole had AK 47 rifle and Salskar had his 9 mm service revolver. Justice Agyar had raised the question how come that Paole had a sophisticated weapon like AK 47 but neither Salskar nor even a single member of Salskar’s team was even slightly injured but with police revolver the two criminals were killed? The judge described it a fake encounter. Salskar challenged this verdict in Supreme Court. Before this case could be taken up in Supreme Court for hearing or verdict pronounced Salskar was killed in terrorists attack in Mumbai on 26 November 2008. There have been many other so-called encounter specialists in Mumbai like Daya Naik, Praful Bhonsle, Ravinder Angre and others whose roles were questionable in police encounter but Pradeep Sharma is the first such police officer who has been arrested.

PIL filed: P.A. Sebastian, advocate and a member of the Committee for the Protection of Democratic Rights, while raising doubt about the authenticity of such police encounters had filed a PIL in court. According to Sebastian police is misusing the powers given to it in such cases. He said that he had come to this conclusion after observing and analysing such encounters closely. He says that after every encounter, the story that police manufactures is almost of the same type: that after a secret information, police followed the criminals or terrorists and when they challenged the criminal, he fired at them and so in self defence they had to retaliate as a result of which the so-called criminal died or succumbed to injuries on way to hospital.

It is said that when Julio Ribero was Police Commissioner of Mumbai he had given police a free hand to shoot dangerous criminals because if they were arrested and presented in court, soon they were released on bail and after release they tried to take revenge against police or again indulged in their criminal activities or even if in jail, from there also they continue their activities through their vast network. So in order to rid the society of such dangerous criminals, it is expedient or in public good to dispose them of in such “encounters.”

It is also noteworthy that police encounters have mostly taken place around midnight and at lonely places, jungles etc where there are no eye witnesses. Though human rights organisations had always been protesting against such police encounters, top police officers and even the government’s civilian authorities had been favouring such encounters or did not raise any objection to such encounters. But with Pradeep Sharma’s arrest and also because of the fact that most of the earlier so-called encounter specialists have been suspended because of their doubtful role and some even arrested in other states, it is to be seen whether there will be any change in encounter policy. It may also be mentioned that cases have also been found when former criminals who after completing their jail terms had been freed and become law abiding persons but were killed by police in encounters.

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 February 2010 on page no. 11

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