Published on: October 3, 2023 at 13:02 IST
Advocate Vishal Tiwari, filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the Supreme Court seeking an independent investigation into police encounter killings in Uttar Pradesh, has contradicted the State’s statements presented in its status report.
Tiwari, in his rejoinder, asserted that encounter killings have been glorified as achievements by state police officials, thereby fostering arbitrary and unconstitutional actions.
He cited instances of out-of-turn promotions and the awarding of gallantry honors to officers involved in such encounters.
Challenging the State’s assertion that police encounters were legitimate acts of self-defense, the petitioner argued that the police, as a powerful force, should refrain from using excessive or retaliatory force, especially when dealing with weaker opposition.
Tiwari emphasized, “The police, as a formidable force, cannot always justify their actions as self-defense, especially when confronting a lesser-armed party. If the police use lethal force when alternatives exist to subdue the situation without causing death, it constitutes retaliation. Such excessive or retaliatory force by the State leads to extrajudicial killings or executions.”
The petitioner accused the State of inaccurately disclosing crucial information and intentionally misleading the Court. He pointed out that the State’s response, as per the Court’s directive on August 11, only addressed seven out of the 183 encounter incidents mentioned in his writ petition. Consequently, he alleged that the State did not fully comply with the court order from August 11, 2023.
Tiwari stated, “The respondents deliberately failed to provide a status report or a response to the 183 encounter killings. Many of these encounters may have been fabricated, with inadequate compliance with the guidelines established by the Supreme Court.” He also cited the United Nations Human Rights Commission’s expressed concern in January 2019 regarding encounter killings in Uttar Pradesh.
Furthermore, Tiwari contended that the respondent misinterpreted the Chauhan Commission report as exonerating the police in the Kanpur/Bikru encounter killings of 2020. He emphasized that the Commission had explicitly stated that the report was prepared without any rebuttal against the police version.
The petitioner drew attention to the report’s conclusion, which stated, “In such circumstances, the commission has prepared its report in the absence of any evidence to counter the police version in any of the incidents under inquiry.”
Regarding the death of Atiq Ahmed, Tiwari raised two significant concerns. Firstly, he pointed out that despite the High Court’s directions on March 21, 2023, the present status report did not address the safety and protection sought for Ashraf, Atiq’s brother, during his transit in police custody. Tiwari argued that adequate measures might have prevented the tragic incident.
Secondly, he expressed concerns about the independence of the Special Investigation Team (SIT) conducting the investigation into the deaths of Atiq and Ashraf, as it lacks supervision by a judicial magistrate. The affidavit also highlighted a recurring pattern in these encounter killings, where police claim to have received tips from informers, leading to confrontations resulting in the use of lethal force.
The petitioner further alleged that family members are not permitted to file First Information Reports (FIRs) against police officials, thus impeding inquiries into the killings.
Tiwari referenced the Supreme Court’s stance in Om Prakash and Ors. v. State of Jharkhand (2012), which unequivocally stated that encounter killings are unjustified and constitute “state-sponsored terrorism.”
The matter will be heard by a bench led by Justice S Ravindra Bhat. In addition to Tiwari’s PIL, the bench is also considering a petition filed by Atiq Ahmed’s sister, Aisha Noori, seeking a court-monitored investigation into the deaths of her brothers in April 2023 while they were in police custody for medical examinations.
Case Title: Vishal Tiwari v. Union of India