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OPINION: Delhi HC gives landmark judgment on fake encounters, upholds life term to seven policemen

In a strong and stern message to all men in uniform who think that they can get away even after murdering any innocent person, the Delhi High Court, on February 6th, retained the life imprisonment that was awarded to seven Uttarakhand policemen for killing an innocent MBA student in a fake encounter in Dehradun in 2009. This open fake encounter had generated a lot of furore as the MBA student named Ranbir Singh had a complete impeccable track record with no past criminal record! This had left Ranbir’s parents, his relatives and friends and all those who were acquainted with him completely flabbergasted!

To be sure, the Delhi High Court’s landmark ruling has made it clear: If you are a man in uniform and you kill someone without any valid cause then you are bound to pay the consequences! The Delhi High Court stated explicitly that, “Extra-judicial killing has no place in a system governed by the rule of law.” Absolutely right! Who can deny or dispute this?

Let me add here in the same vein that the Delhi High Court, however, set aside the conviction and life term of 10 other cops who were held guilty for conspiring to kidnap and murder the MBA student. They got the benefit of doubt. These 10 were – constables Satbir Singh, Sunil Saini, Chander Pal, Saurabh Nautiyal, Nagender Rathi, Vikas Chander Baluni, Sanjay Rawat and Manoj Kumar and drivers Mohan Singh Rana and Inderbhan Singh.

To put things in perspective, the Delhi High Court after taking into account all the facts and circumstances of this high profile case concluded unambiguously that there was lack of evidence against them to sustain the charge. Besides the 17, the last accused Jaspal Singh Gosain who was the then head operator at the city control room who was sentenced to two years jail by the trial court for the offence of public servant framing incorrect record or writing with intent to save person from punishment was also absolved by the Delhi High Court. His complicity thus in this fake encounter was ruled out!

Ranbir Singh who was aged 22 and a resident of Ghaziabad was gunned down by the police on July 3, 2009. The police had alleged that he was involved in an extortion racket. But the police could not back up their serious claims with substantial evidence in the court!

The investigation was entrusted to the Central Bureau of Investigation and the case was transferred to Delhi by the Supreme Court. It was in June 2014 that a CBI court had convicted 18 Uttarakhand policemen in the case after holding them guilty of involvement in the conspiracy to kidnap and kill Ghaziabad resident Ranbir Singh who had gone to Dehradun to take up a job on July 3, 2009. No doubt, such fake encounters deserve no leniency!

Bluntly put, a Bench of Justices S Muralidhar and IS Mehta of Delhi High Court in its 105-page judgment said that, “Fake encounter is manifestation of the impunity with which armed forces, including the police, are prone to act in utter disregard of the rule of law”. The Bench also held that, “It is also symbolic of the cynicism with which the police themselves view the efficacy of the criminal justice system. The police, in this perception, are not just the accusers, but the prosecutor, the judge and the executioner.” Very rightly said!

Going one step ahead, I would further go on to add while speaking for myself that fake encounters must be punished with only the most strictest punishment which means death as long as death penalty exists in our penal laws and at the most life imprisonment. Nothing less than this! Those who indulge in fake encounters are worse than terrorists who not just bring disrepute to themselves but also to the uniform which they wear and denigrate the whole institution of the police or the armed forces or any other organization of which the accused are a member!

Needless to say, terrorists are brainwashed and trained by Pakistani Army, ISI and their handlers to kill and are armed for the same but what about the men in uniform? Who trains them to indulge in fake encounter killings? They indulge in worst kinds of crime not after going to Pakistan and being brainwashed by their army or ISI but do it all by themselves only for lure of getting out-of-turn promotions or some medal or after getting angry over a small dispute etc which has to be punished with the most strictest punishment so that the right message goes all across that those who indulge in fake killings will meet their just desserts soon!

As it turned out, the Delhi High Court, which termed the incident a “tragic case” upheld the trial court verdict convicting and sentencing to life Sub-Inspectors Santosh Kumar Jaiswal, Gopal Dutt Bhatt (SHO), Rajesh Bisht, Neeraj Kumar, Nitin Chander Mohan Singh Rawat and constable Ajit Singh. All seven were suspended. Very rightly so!

Truth be told, the Bench pulled back no punches in lashing out at the growing incidents of fake encounter killings. The Bench of Justice S Muralidhar and Justice IS Mehta of Delhi High Court observed that, “A fake encounter is a form of extra judicial killing which has no place in a legal system governed by the rule of law. It is a manifestation of the impunity with which armed forces, including the police, are prone to act, in utter disregard of the rule of law.” The Bench went on to say that, “For the police, fake encounters symbolise the cynicism with which the police view the efficacy of the criminal justice system. In the court’s view, the police, in this perception, are not just the accusers but the prosecutor, the judge and the executioner.

Simply put, the confirmation of punishment for the seven accused was a result of the lawlessness by the police force which is not a new phenomenon. Noting that a large number of prosecution witnesses turned hostile, the Delhi High Court Bench said this was “yet another case that underscores the urgent need for a robust scheme of protection to witnesses and victims”. It was observed that, “The accused in the present case were all policemen of Uttarakhand. Many of the witnesses were local residents of Dehradun.” The High Court stated that though the Law Commission of India gave its recommendations in that regard more than a decade ago, little had been done for implementation.

It may be recalled here that following a public outcry and the media describing it as a “fake encounter” in addition to the deceased’s family not being satisfied with the progress in the case, the family approached the Chief Minister of Uttarakhand. Consequently, the Uttarakhand government on July 5, 2009 transferred the investigation of the Dehradun police station to the CB-CID. However, as agitations continued, the government handed over the investigation to the CBI on July 8, 2009. On the plea of the deceased’s father Ravinder Pal Singh, the Supreme Court transferred the case from the Dehradun court to a Special CBI court in Delhi.

It is noteworthy that the most important witness in this case was a public servant who claimed to have gone to his house after witnessing a scuffle between two youngsters and a policeman on July 3, 2009. The witness retrieved his licensed revolver from his home and fired two shots in the air to break the scuffle. The firing resulted in a commotion with the youngsters trying to flee and merge in the crowd.

Be it noted, the witness, however, noticed that more policemen reached the spot and they managed to catch hold of one of the youngsters. The Bench observed that, “This is perhaps the most important statement in the entire case.” This is what ultimately led to the conviction of these seven policemen to life imprisonment! Very rightly so!

All said and done, this landmark ruling by the Delhi High Court has sent a very loud and clear warning to all the men in uniform that, “If you think that just because you have the uniform and power which they wield being a public servant does not mean that you can get away by doing anything whatever you want.” It has sent a very loud and clear message to all the men in uniform that if you indulge in fake encounter killings, you have no option but to pay the price which means that you can be punished with either life or death! In this case they have been punished with life term which means that for the remainder of their life they will have to spend it in prison! It has also sent a loud and clear message that, “Be you ever so high, the law is above you”!

Read the judgment below:

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Sanjeev Sirohi is an Advocate from Meerut. Views expressed are personal of the author. The Indian Jurist does not take responsibility for the views expressed or facts stated.

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