NHRC Batla House Report: an analysis

By Salman Sultan

NHRC in its report on seemingly fake Batla House encounter has stated that "The scope of enquiry before the Commission is very limited.  The only question which we propose to consider is whether the police had opened fire without any justification or it had acted in the exercise of the Right of self-defence". Further, it states, "Enquiries are conducted by the Commission in accordance with the provisions of Section 17 of the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993.  Section 17 does not contemplate an adversarial proceeding.  It empowers the Commission to call for information or report from the Central Government or any State Government or any other authority.  If on the material placed before it, the Commission is satisfied that no further enquiry is required, it may not proceed with the complaint".
Injured Mohan Sharma being led away; DCP Alok Kumar (inset) in front of L-18 flat

How the revered commission got satisfied about the exercise of the right of self-defence? The commission did not even bother to look for contradictions in two different police reports:

1. Excerpt from the Report of Shri R.P. Upadhayay, Additional Commissioner of Police, Vigilance, Delhi dated 23 October, 2008:

"On 19.09.2008, specific information was received that Atif @ Bashir was residing on top floor flat No. 108 of building L-18, Batla House, Delhi. On the basis of this information, Inspector Mohan Chand Sharma of Special Cell, Delhi along with few staff entered into the building to conduct raid at the said flat whereas remaining team members remained at ground floor to cover the building. The team knocked at the main door of the flat and disclosed identity but the occupants of the flat did not respond. Then the team, in order to enter the flat, pushed the main door but was found bolted from inside. Thereafter, the team went to another door of the flat and found it unbolted. The team members entered the flat through the side door to apprehend the suspects. The occupants of the flat opened fire on the police team to evade arrest."

2. Excerpts from Shri Karnail Singh, Joint Commissioner of Police, Special Cell, Delhi note dated 19th November, 2008:

"A team headed by Inspector Mohan Chand Sharma, first went to the place to apprehend the accused, who were all without bullet proof jackets for the reason explained above.  A backup team in bullet proofs and AK-47 assault rifle was stationed at a distance.  Inspector Mohan Chand Sharma who was heading the first team, directed SI Dharmender to go into Flat No.108 in the garb of an executive of one of the mobile service providers with the express purpose of fixing the identity of the user of mobile number 9811004309.

“SI Dharmender first went upstairs on the top floor of Flat No.108 of L-18, Batla House.  He heard couple of voices in the apartment and decided to come back to inform Inspector Mohan Chand Sharma who then decided to go together to check the inmates in the apartment.  A seven member team including Inspector Mohan Chand Sharma went to the top floor of this building, where this Flat No.108 was located.  The building was such that it had four floors and each floor had two apartments.  Flat No.108 also had two entry points in L-shape.

Inspector Mohan Chand Sharma knocked the front door and asked them to open the door informing them of their being police personnel.  Nobody opened the door. He then tried to push the door but it was found bolted from inside.  He then pushed the other door which was not found bolted from inside and the team led by Inspector Mohan Chand Sharma entered the flat through this door.  Immediately, a volley of fire came on the police team from the right side of the drawing room as well as the left side room of the apartment."

According to the first report the team headed by Mr. Sharma went directly upstairs while in the second report first SI Dharmendra went upstairs and after hearing voices came back to let Mr. Sharma lead a seven-member team. Keep in mind that the whole area was cordoned off and L-18 Batla House occupant were already under surveillance. Even then as per the second report, SI Dharmendra’s climbing so many stairs, patiently hearing voices inside the flat and then coming down to let a seven-member team go upstairs did not even alert the occupants of L-18 to at least bolt the doors of their small flat. The purpose of the police party’s visit to L-18 also differs from one report to the other. The first report says that the purpose was “apprehend the suspects” while the second says their “express purpose” was to fix the identity of the user of a certain mobile number”.

Another point worth noting is the inexplicable picture (seen internationally) of an injured Mohan Chand Sharma being walked down so many stairs and continued walking on the street with a little help from a colleague. Does the police party raid without first aids/stretcher etc? Was Inspector Sharma covering so much distance under different terrains (stairs and road) really hit by a dreadful weapon like AK-47 allegedly in possession of the occupants of L-18? Still there is a second photograph, also seen by people all over the world, in which a ????, Assistant Commissioner or Police is seen brandishing his pistol at the same time on the same floor where L-18 is situated. What was such a senior police officer doing their with exposed gun?

A lot of questions about seemingly fake Batla House encounter have been raised by a report brought out by Jamia Teachers' Solidarity Group. The Commission did not even take the trouble of interviewing JTSG people who are responsible teachers at a university or to look into questions raised in their report.

Tehelka magazine recently published one dozen photographs that exposed the truth behind such encounters. The pictures are a testimony to the gruesome, barbaric and deceitful cold-blooded murder of an unarmed youth (Sanjit) in Manipur who appeared to have followed the Commandos docilely. The modus operandi of our security agencies has been depicted so vividly in these photographs that there is no need of further proof or enquiry in this case. If we compare this to Batla House episode it seems probable that in the month of Ramadan, when people generally sleep in the morning to cover for staying awake in the night for pre-dawn meal, the sleeping Muslim youths were nabbed and cold-bloodedly killed like Sanjit. This explains as to why Inspector Sharma and his team did not bother to wear protective gear. Another pertinent question raised in different reports is the highly profitable business of encounters, i.e. the award money, decoration and quick promotion that follows such cold murders. Further, persistent award winning by a single officer may give rise to jealousy among the rank.

In view of these photographs in Tehelka and persistent doubts expressed about a number of encounters, NHRC should reconsider its “satisfaction” over the question "police had opened fire without any justification or it had acted in the exercise of the Right of self defense?"

When NHRC initiates enquiry, common man lives under the impression that Commission will unearth the truth and is empowered enough to cross-examine any individual or agency irrespective of his/her stature. The exalted position of NHRC was even emphasized by our hon'ble court when it refrained from questioning the decision of a statutory body on a writ petition filed by an NGO (ANHAD). Further, provisions of Section 17 of the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993 should be modified to allow adversarial enquiry on part of NHRC. Otherwise, NHRC will just be a showpiece like elephant tusks.

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-30 September 2009 on page no. 18

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