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PUCL Bulletin, March 2003

PUCL Bihar:
Fake encounter In Sammelan Market, Aashiaanaa Nagar, Patna

Also, Ashiana encounter fake, says CBI too

Background
On 29 December, 2002, one of the local dailies of state carried the headlines on the front page "Three Criminals Killed In Police Encounter". Similar headlines appeared in all Hindi and English dailies. Almost everywhere there was a subtitle that informed about the institution of a CID probe. The next day all newspapers were reporting that the three youths killed in the alleged encounter did not have any criminal antecedents and it was a case of fake encounter. In the past PUCL has been conducting enquiries into case of alleged fake encounters usually on allegations made on behalf of the victims.

As the case appeared so blatant and was followed by strong public outrage-PUCL, Bihar State Unit decided suo moto to constitute a team and investigate the entire episode. The enquiry team consisted of the following persons: R.C.L. Das, President, PUCL, Bihar State Unit; Vinay K. Kantha, Vice President, Bihar State Unit; Nand Kishore Singh, Member, Bihar State Council; Satish Kumar, Member, Bihar State Council.

Subsequently Kishori Das, General Secretary, PUCL, Bihar State Unit also joined the team and assisted in procuring some important documents.

Mode of enquiry
On January 1, 2003 the team visited the homes of the three victims, namely Prashant, Vikas, and Himanshu and spoke at length to the members of the family. The Place of Occurrence, that is, the Sammelan Market in Aashiaanaa Nagar was also inspected. The team also went to the Shastrinagar P.S. the same day although the necessary papers were collected on a later date.

The following documents were examined:

  1. The three FIRs filed by Mukesh Kumar, brother of one of the deceased Vikas Ranjan; Kamlesh Kumar Gautam, the booth owner whose shop was allegedly being looted; and Shamse Alam, the SI and in-charge of Shastrinagar P.S. who led the team which was responsible for encounter.

  2. The postmortem reports of the three youths killed (Nos. 1849, 1850, and 1851 dated 29.12.2002 issued by Patna Medical College.)

Besides, news items appearing in the newspapers were also perused by the members of the enquiry team. Attempt was made to contact the Senior Superintendent of Police, Patna but it did not materialize because of his prior occupation with arrangements being made for the Bandh Call given by some political parties. Given the reticence on the part of the police it was thought unnecessary to delay the finalization of report on that account. A CID probe was ordered on the date of occurrence itself and now the government has announced that the CBI with hold an enquiry into the incident.

Incident
Broadly speaking there are two version of the incident, one given by the members of the families of the victims and the other given by the police and the booth owner. Ignoring the minor differences among different narrations, the incident can be reconstructed as given below:

A. First Version: Prashant Singh, Vikas Ranjan, and Himanshu picked up some quarrel with a telephone booth owner Kamalesh Kumar Gautam in the Sammelan Market on the question of excess billing for a call made by them. It seems that they were roughed up by the booth owner, may be along with some other persons in his support. The three boys threatened him of settling scores. After half an hour or so, they went back to the booth along with some other people of the locality. Meanwhile, the booth owner had mobilized other shopkeepers in and around Sammelan Market.

As soon as they came to the market, these persons presumably attacked them. If some others were accompanying the three youths they fled from the scene, while these three were trapped inside as the gate at the opening of the market was closed. While they were being beaten up, the booth owner contacted a policeman attached with Digha PS who was known to him and whose name is reported to be Abhay Kumar. Abhay Kumar apparently rushed to the market and simultaneously flashed an information to the police stations in Shastrinagar and Digha. Within no time the police vehicles from both the police stations had reached the spot. Allegedly the police allowed the beating to go on and eventually shot the three boys dead from a point blank range.

B. Second Version: A group of armed criminals were committing dacoity in the Sammelan Market at about 4 PM. SI, Shamse Alam learnt about it when he reached that area along with Shastrinagar PS mobile no. 2. He rushed to the spot at once and on reaching there his team was fired upon. Even after being asked to surrender when the dacoits did not respond he fired seven rounds injuring three of them. As soon as the crowd saw them falling, they rushed forward and killed all three of them by beating them with lathis, rods and stones. Arms and ammunitions were also found on the dead bodies of the criminals along with some cash and Reliance coupons. Alam learnt later that they had looted a sum of Rs. 55000/- plus some coupon from the STD booth. Some of the criminals had fled from the scene while three of them lingered on in order to loot the billing machine.

According to Alam he tried to save the three criminals from the wrath of the violent mob but failed because of their numbers and aggressive mood. Hence he filed an FIR charging a thousand strong crowd of unknown persons u/s 304 of IPC.

Of the two versions the enquiry team is of the view that the first one is by and large true, even if some details are not very clear. The police version is totally fabricated and untrue.

The reason for arriving at this conclusion are numerous:

  1. To begin with, not only the families of the victims, but whosoever the team met around Sammelan Market or in the locality of Aashiaanaa Nagar either pleaded ignorance about the actual incident or corroborated the first version.

  2. Almost everyone the team spoke to informed that the police had actually cordoned off that area. The question of the public itself committing the violence as alleged in the FIR lodged by Shamse Alam is malicious, misleading and a travesty of truth.

  3. All three victims were shot from a close range and generally bullets exited from the bodies rather than getting lodged. The wounds of entry found to be of 1/4 "or 1/2" diameter and with 'blackening charge' on each body. Other doctors who saw post mortem report confirmed the firing from point blank range. The examination of reports rules out the possibility of firing from a distance in an encounter with the victims allegedly carrying arms. Further the reports clearly record that the injuries that were caused by fire arms (two each on the bodies of Prashant Singh and Himanshu Kumar and one on the body of Vikas Ranjan) were 'grievous and dangerous to life in ordinary course of nature.' Further, it may be noted that neither the police, nor the shopkeepers received any injury from the alleged indiscriminate firing of the three youths.

  4. It seems unlikely that the victims would keep lingering on inside the grilled entrance of a market merely to loot the billing machine even when a thousand strong has assembled around the market as has been alleged in the FIR of Shamse Alam. The FIR has been written with a clear intent of making out a case for encounter and there is a crude attempt made to make it look real.

  5. The fact that the three boys had gone there in their own vehicles parking there properly just outside the market also indicates that they were not there with the intention of loot.

  6. Finally, the three victims had no criminal background which was confirmed by all people who knew them directly or indirectly.

    (i) Prashant Singh S/o Laxman Singh was short listed for commercial diving course of Indian Naval Diving School, Kochi and was due to appear at a test on 6''' January 2003. He was due to leave for Kochi on 2nd January and had a ticket reservation for the same. Ironically he had gone to the Shastrinagar P.S, and met the same Shamse Alam along with his father for a police verification at about 2 pm. the same afternoon. Alam had referred them to the Munshi.

    (ii) Vikas Ranjan S/o Jagdish Prasad Gupta, the owner of Manbhawan Sweets on Aashiaanaa More was known to be an active social worker in the locality. For the martyrs of Kargil he is reported to have collected donation amounting to Rupees twenty one thousand which was made over by him to the Governor. He had done a course in hardware engineering at Beltron Bhawan.

    (iii)
    Himanshu Kumar S/o Late Surendra Prasad Yadav was a bright student doing B.Sc. (IT) from Zakir Hussain institute. The team met some of his friends who confirmed that Himanshu was a sincere student. At his home also the team saw the computer which he used to work. There is no grain of evidence regarding inclination to crime.

Conclusion
There is not an iota of doubt in the minds of the members of team that this is a case of fake encounter. In fact, the entire locality knows about it. At best there can be debates about who actually killed the three boys as the owner of booth and his friend in the Digha police station, Abhay Kumar are among the suspects. But Shamse Alam, on his own admission in the FIR fired seven rounds from his service revolver, so his role is obvious and beyond doubt. He may have allowed the victims to be beaten up brutally, as alleged in the FIR lodged by Mukesh Kumar, brother of one of the deceased, before he killed them with his own revolver. It was a brutal cold blooded murder committed in the market place by the local Thaanaa incharge who is responsible for the safely of everyone in the jurisdiction of the police station.

It was such a blatant and shameless act that the public outrage against it was quite natural. That there should be a widespread spontaneous protest against the killing is again a proof of the innocence of the three youths and the crime of the police contingent.

Possible cause of occurrence
While this incident reflects the lack of responsibility and the brutalisation of the police force, the possible motive behind the murder is difficult to unravel. However there are certain possibilities which have been suggested by people.

(i) There are cases in which due to mistaken identity, some innocent persons are killed. Here two comments seem necessary. First, even when a known criminal is killed, the killing in a fake encounter is nothing short of murder and must be condemned in no uncertain terms.

The issue that the person killed is innocent or a criminal is of no consequence from the legal or human rights angle. Secondly, in the present case by no means it was a case of mistaken identity. No doubt that the killers claimed initially that they have killed two notorious criminals, namely, Ashok and Natwa and gave the same information to the media. But given the entire circumstances it is ruled out by our team that they had mistaken the identity. Many people in the crowd gathered outside the Sammelan Market also knew the identity of those being killed and they had informed the family of Vikas Ranjan. It cannot be accepted that the police had actually taken them to be Ashok and Natwa.

(ii) Some newspapers have suggested that it is the greed and pursuit of gallantry award which has been the reason behind many fake encounters and could be so in this case. A gallantry award winner is entitled to several privileges including free travel in the railways. He may get a promotion out of turn. Shamse Alam was in charge of Shastrinagar PS even as he was an SI, while usually this P.S. remains under the charge of an inspector level police official. Hence this explanation for the act of Alam has considerable merit.

(iii) Bribe can be a third possible motive behind the crime which cannot be ruled out. There is a possibility that before the arrival of police the three boys were beaten up badly by the booth owner and his accomplices. There is an added possibility that someone among them was shot dead by them or by the policeman who is a friend of the booth owner after which it was thought safe to eliminate all three boys.

Recommendation

  • Shamse Alam, SI and the then in-charge Shastrinagar PS should be prosecuted under relevant sections of IPC including 302. The charge sheet should be filed after an early investigation at sufficiently high and credible level and trial should commence without delay. Other accomplices including Kamalesh Kumar Gautam and the entire police party should be charged under relevant sections.

  • The needle of suspicion points towards Abhay Kumar SI Digha PS. As the prime mover specially for mobilizing police support. The nature and extent of his role should be carefully investigated and consequently suitable criminal case filed against him.

  • Departmental proceedings should be started against these and other police functionaries who had a direct role to play. Some functionaries at the higher level including the DSP of Sachivalaya Ajit Kumar Sinha were trying to cover the crime. They also ought to be punished suitably.

  • False encounters are becoming routine and common. This is a dangerous trend which needs to be checked. This needs to be looked into in an open manner by an independent body of persons which should include among others members of government as well as human rights activists.

Observations
1. This case of innocent persons being killed by Bihar Police and subsequently declaring it to be an encounter is not an isolated case. Just a few days before this incident, at Manjhaul in Begusarai district an SDPO Maheshwar Mahto allegedly killed two persons of a barat party taking them to be terrorists (in fact another PUCL team has confirmed that it was again a case of fake encounter). Some years back there was a case of killing of three persons in the Pahari locality under Agamkuan PS which was claimed to be an encounter. The case became controversial and subsequently a CBI probe was ordered. Barachatti encounter had also similarly made the headlines.

The killing of Anand Pandey, son of a noted littérateur Manager Pandey was also widely reported in the press. But these are but a few cases which somehow come in public notice. Actually such encounters are taking place with disturbing frequency nowadays and further, in many cases some kind of public endorsement is also noticeable, which is in deed an extremely disconcerting fact. A similar phenomenon is the lynching of criminals by the public, which is taking place quite often in the countryside of Bihar and sometimes in the towns too.

There are plausible reasons behind the public sometimes endorsing even false encounter or indulging in brutal acts like lynching. The likelihood of criminals actually being convicted and punished has became so small that some people would prefer a summary punishment of this kind.

But it has to be recognized and appreciated that this is not only savage and illegal, but is rought with great dangers. If killing of criminals by police is tacitly accepted, the obvious fall-out will be killing of innocent persons, as it happened in the recent case. It is imperative that on one hand such brutalisation, is arrested through public education and on the other hand, the entire process of criminal administration is streamlined and made effective. Police force cannot be dispensed with but they cannot be allowed to take law in their hands. This tendency can be curbed by making the system effective and at the same time, the erring officials who either default in their duties or act in violation of laws.

2. There is noticeable tendency in the police department (often extending to the general administration as well) to try to cover the guilt or inefficiency of the machinery. The public faith in the system has got so much eroded that their version is taken with a pinch of salt. Often they are suspected to be having nexus with criminals, politicians usually forming the third corner of the triangle. In the present case also, until the public fury was noticed by the police personnel, there was an endorsement of the version of Shamse Alam. The members of the family further alleged that even in the process of post-mortem, some interference was attempted.

The charge may be false, yet it reveals the lack of faith in the system which should compel the persons in power to introspect. At least one thing is obvious - despite an assurance given to the families by ADG himself, there was an inexplicable delay in conducting the post-mortem.

3. The callousness of the police machinery is proverbial but in cases like the present one it shocks the conscience. How can someone kill in cold blood three young boys in their prime so brutally? In what manner, the mind of such a killer operates? Has it been taken over or guided by instincts which are apparently criminal? While the entire locality had learnt about the identity of boys killed, the police continued to call them unknown criminals.

Even on the next day, much after a proper identification of the bodies, the policemen declared them to be unknown. It appears that functioning of the police system is totally dehumanized and if so, what hope of justice and fair play we can have from such a force. It is time that policy makers take notice of the crisis prevailing there and initiate urgent action


 

 

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