of Subhash Sahani, an alleged criminal in police encounter on 21.4.2003
at Belmuri, Dhaniakhali PS, West Bengal
finding report by Association for Protection of Democratic Rights
Hooghly district committee (APDR), 12 May 2003
On Monday, 21st April 2003 a youth was killed by plainclothes policemen
in a telephone booth near Belmuri station on Eastern Railway s Howrah-Burdwan
chord line. The place is under the jurisdiction of Dhaniakhali PS in the
District of Hooghly. The incident took place at about 5-15 PM after the
4-40 PM Down Burdwan local left Belmuri. TV news telecasts and the next
morning newspapers covered the incident quite extensively. Some reports
also mentioned that apart from the man killed, another person was also
seriously injured and was taken into custody. Electronic and print media
reports also said that a police officer was also injured in the action
and was hospitalised.
The stories were full of all sorts of sensationalism, almost each of which
cited police sources as the source of information given and each giving
a different and confusing version from its police source . The leading
morning newspapers including Anandabazar Patrika, Bartaman, The Telegraph
did not mention the name of the person killed, while the CPI(M) daily
Ganashakti identified the slain youth as Subhash Sahani.
According to Anandabazar
Patrika, a militant was killed, Bartaman described him as a
dreaded criminal and Ganashakti as a Bihar coal mafia . Citing
police sources, Ganashakti also connected him with a Trinamul Congress
leader of Dhaniakhali area. Going through the confusion created by the
stories and considering the fact that most local correspondents of Calcutta
x-udd dailies are known to have good sources inside the district police
and that they were fed with confusing versions by their sources, above
all prima facie this was a case of extra-judicial killing, APDR,
Hooghly District Committee decided to conduct a fact-finding on the incident
that took place at Belmuri station on 21.4.03. afternoon.
A seven-member APDR team visited the place of incident on 23.4.03 and
talked to a large no. of people including about twenty eyewitnesses. The
team recorded the versions of the incident given by Sri Asoke Dhara, the
owner of the Telephone Booth-cum Electronic Shop & Service Centre
inside which the alleged shoot-out took place, his employees including
Netai Das, who was manning the booth at the time of the incident, his
elder brother and some other shopkeepers and street vendors.
An APDR team also
visited Malgudam (a Ganges side shanty near Tentultala under Bhadreswar
PS ) where the slain youth Subhash Sahani lived with his family on 28.4.03.
An APDR team also succeeded in meeting SI Debashis Chakrabarty, O/C, Bhadreswar
PS after two attempts and about three hours waiting on the second day
and Shri Sankhasubhra Chakrabarty, SDPO, Serampore with a prior appointment.
APDR also talked with the DSP (HQ), Hooghly over the phone and tried to
contact the SDPO Chandernagore, who was also in the police force taking
part in the operation but did not succed. APDR also talked to Trinamul
Congress leaders of Bhadreswar and Dhaniakhali areas.
The substance of APDR fact-finding is as follows
1. The incident at Belmuri on 21.4.2003: There are two distinct
and contradictory versions of what happened between 5 and 5-15 PM at the
PO on that day.
(a) The statements made by at least
twenty local people while talking to APDR team on 23.4.2003 are essentially
similar. It is needless to mention that they took notice of what was happening
only after when they heard three to four gunshot fires. Local people spotted
some unidentified persons assembled near the Telephone Booth owned by
Ashoke Dhara from about 4-30 PM that day. But they were not apprehensive,
as the place was generally peaceful. A man said that he was standing in
the sweetmeat shop almost facing the booth and that he saw two men coming
along the station road. One of them stopped in the Cigarette shop at the
gate of the booth and was buying Pan Masala or something like that, while
the other entered the booth.
One of the unknown
faces waiting in front of the sweet shop gestured something to another
near the booth who also entered the booth. Immediately sounds of scuffle
were heard followed by several bursting sounds, which were later realised
as gunshot sounds. The unknown plainclothes persons took out their firearms
and identified themselves as police personnel and ordered everyone to
disperse saying that they were confronting dreaded militants . The other
man in the cigarette shop was also grabbed in the meantime. Barring a
few shop owners and those sitting inside, everyone ran helter-skelter.
Telephone booth hand Netai Das said that he was watching TV sitting just
beyond the notch connecting the booth and Electronic shop while he heard
sounds of scuffle and he was asked by someone inside to run.
He also heard sounds
of two or three gunfire shots. Witnesses also said that they saw a man
grabbing another from behind, groping him by one hand and holding a pistol
at his forehead by the other hand before the gunshot sounds were heard.
After the shots were fired a man inside was seen through the glass panes
of the booth trampling the other by his legs. According to them, the man
inside did not die immediately because of gunshots he was throttled to
death by pressing leg on his neck. After that the man inside was dragged
out of the booth.
Ashoke Dhara, the
telephone booth owner testified that policemen washed bloods spilled on
the floor of the booth. On seeing armed plainclothesmen in front of their
two storied building which houses the telephone booth and hearing gunfire
shots Ashoke Dhara s elder brother who was in his shop about 25 meter
in front, thought that a dacoity was going on in their house and he rang
to the Dhaniakhali PS from a fertiliser shop. A vehicle came within a
few minutes and the dead body was dumped in it.
The other arrested
man was also taken away, who was also injured. The local people did not
speak of any injury sustained by any one of the police party. Local people,
including the telephone booth owner also testified that no official from
the police had taken their testimonies, but the CI has come on the previous
day (i.e. on 22nd) and taken signatures of some of the shop owners on
a plain sheet of paper each. Witnesses did not see any arms seized from
the slain and arrested persons, nor any of them was asked to sign in any
seizure list. Except 3 to 5 gunshot sounds, they did not hear or see any
bombs being exploded. All the witnesses firmly affirmed that there was
no exchange of fire; the firings were all from the persons, who later
identified themselves as police personnel.
(b) The police version of the incident
as narrated by SI Debashis Chakrabarty, O/C, Bhadreswar PS and Shri Sankhasubhra
Chakrabarty, SDPO, Serampore asserts that the encouter took place outside
the telephone booth. The SDPO was himself not present at the spot of encounter
as he was manning another spot. But his version of the chain of events
largely corroborates what SI Debashis Chakrabarty told to APDR.
The slain youth identified
as Subhash Sahani was very well acquainted with SI Debashis Chakrabarty,
who claimed to have killed Sahani with his service revolver. He had arrested
Subhash Sahani earlier in connection with several criminal cases in his
area and even claimed to have once offered him money to start a crime-free
descent life after Subhash was released on bail in a murder case. According
to him he had prior information that Subhash Sahani will be at that spot
with a gang of criminals at that time to commit a dacoity in a local petrol
pump. At about 5 PM the SI spotted Subhash along with 5-6 other accomplishes
approaching along the station connector . SI Chakrabarty claimed that
Subhash also recognised him and shot at him.
A bomb was also exploded
by his accomplishes. SI Chakrabarty further claimed that instantly he
fired upon Subhash thrice from a distance of three to four feet and he
died instantly. According to him all of Subhash s accomplishes fled and
there was no arrest and none except the killed person was injured. SI
Chakrabarty further said that the shot fired by Subhash bruised past his
left waist slightly (he used the Bengali word ektu) injuring him.
2.About Subhash Sahani : (a) Like
many other day labourers, porters and transport workers living in shanties
on the either sides of the railway track and terminal of kayla depo and
on the bank of the Ganges there, Subhash Sahani also came from Bihar in
search of a living and ultimately became a part of the flourishing criminal
world operating in the area. According to police and newspaper reports
about forty criminal cases in different PSs are pending against him. He
was named in the sensational daylight murder of Bhadreswar Foundry owner
Sambhu Ghosh a couple of years back.
(b) According to Subhash s neighbours
in kayla depo Subhash had a very good buisiness relationship with the
local PS and succsessive O/Cs and other personnel from the PS would regularly
visit his shanty at night, ostensibly for investigation . (APDR is quite
aware of police-criminal-politician relationship in the PS, like most
other PSs, based on facts collected in course of its extensive fact-findings
in Bhikhari Paswan abduction and murder, Bholananath Bhaduri Murder and
several communal riots in Telinipara). After Shambhu Ghosh s murder an
influential local club headed by a key political figure of the area ransacked
and demolished several shanties including Subhash s, which had a partial
brickwork. Since then the family, including his wife and two minor children
was living in a makeshift shanty on the adjacent slopes of the Ganges.
According to police Subhash was released a few days earlier from jail.
APDR tried to contact Subhash s family.
When the APDR team
visited his place on 28th April, the family had already moved out day
before. APDR also learnt that in the night before, few strongly built
armed men identifying themselves as policemen from Lalbazar raided the
area, threatened the people, demanded Rs 10,000 from a labour sarder and
tried to kidnap the wife of a transport worker. They collectively went
to the Bhadreswar PS to lodge a complaint in the morning, but no written
complaint was recorded and the police was yet to visit the place less
than a kilometer away from the PS. According to Subhash s neighbours,
this was first such incident, even Subhash and his accomplishes, did not
carry on any criminal activity or extortion in the locality.
(c) Bhadreswar and Dhaniakhali Trinamul
Congress leaders, when contacted by APDR, strongly denied that they had
ever any connection with Subhash. His neighbours and also the police asserted
that Subhash did not have any political connection.
II. Observations of APDR
1. APDR has noted the criminal antecedents of the slain youth Subhash
Sahani as stated by the police and reported in newspapers. APDR time and
again reiterated that one of the guarantees of curbing criminal and antisocial
activities is to deal them in accordance with law. The very fact that
the man with forty odd criminal cases could continue his criminal activities
without being punished in a single case, itself tells about the miserable
inefficiency of the police in investigation and criminal prosecution.
This inefficiency, coupled with the nexus of a section of the police force
with criminals, activities of the Dak babus and extortion of protection
money from criminals by the PSs are the two most important factors which
make Subhash Sahanis.
2 APDR did not probe into details of the slain person s nexus with the
police, and does not want to comment on it at the moment, except that
an alleged criminal with forty odd cases including at least one broad
daylight murder could not escape the long arm of justice without active
connivance of a section of the guardians of law.
3. The wide difference between the police version and the version given
by the local people about the incident of 21.4.03 as reflected in para
I above only suggest that truth is the first victim here. The local people
who witnessed the incident, became aware of it only after it happened
and some details of their description might be out of conjecture and an
attempt to reconstruct the events after it happened. But from all accounts,
even from the version given by SI Debashis Chakrabarty, O/C, Bhadreswar
PS to APDR clearly it was not at all a case of encounter . The assertions
of SI Chakrabarty, that he seized the first opportunity to eliminate the
victim to preempt any attack by the gang on the general public, which,
according to him would create adverse public reaction is not at all tenable.
Firstly, in spite
of having prior information on Subhash s movement, the crowded place was
chosen for intercepting him by the police itself. Secondly, the police
force had strategically positioned themselves much ahead of the victim
s arrival. Thirdly the police force was heavily armed and far outnumbered
the victim and his associates (if any). From the facts it appears that
there was not more than two persons including the victim himself. Fourthly,
the victim and his sole companion did not offer much resistance except
for the scuffle inside the booth none noticed any sort of clash or encounter.
Everyone testified that there was no bomb throwing and no exchange of
fire. The furniture inside the booth could well have caused the injury
of SI Chakrabarty during the scuffle reported.
4. Shri Sankhasubhra Chakrabarty, SDPO, Serampore said that he was in
a separate team other than the one, which killed Subhash. But to APDR
s pointed query about his assessment a senior police officer of the situation
from the information he had, he agreed that it couldn t be said that there
was no scope for arresting Subhash Sahani alive. SI Chakrabarty s argument
was that he wanted to avoid public casualty and unfavourable public reaction
and so he seized the first opportunity to eliminate the victim means that
he too considered that there was a scope for arresting Subhash Sahani
alive, which he did not avail of.
5. SI Chakrabarty said that there were five or six members in the gang
that assembled for a dacoity at a Dhaniakhali Petrol Pump. It is surprising
that all other gang members could escape the police dragnet and that too
when surrounded by an outnumbering alert force, with teams sealing all
exit points and again in a terrain not fully familiar to them. If SI Chakrabarty
s statements are to be believed, then it must be said that the aim of
the force mobilised there was not for preempting any attempt of dacoity
or nabbing the whole lot of alleged criminals including the victim. The
sole purpose of the mobilisation was to eliminate the victim. Nothing
else could explain the simple vanishing up of all other accomplishes.
6. It is surprising that though senior police officers like SDPO, Serampore,
SDPO, Chandernagore were part of the operation, the decision to execute
the victim was taken by and carried out by SI Chakrabarty alone. According
to SI Chakrabarty, Subhash Sahani was an excellent marksman. His single
shot from a distance of three to four feet missed his target, but all
the three shots fired by SI Chakrabarty hit the bull. This also raises
questions about SI Chakrabarty s version.
7. From all accounts and in the eyes of law, the killing of Subhash Sahani
on 21.4.03 at Belmuri by SI Chakrabarty is a culpable homicide. Whether
or not it was done in the exercise of right to self-defence or power of
arrest can only be decided by an appropriate judicial court empowered
to try offences under Sec 302 IPC. It may be mentioned here that in 1996
the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) dwelt elaborately on the question
of encounter killings by police and other security forces. Mr. Soli Sorabjee,
the then Attorney General took part in the deliberations on behalf of
the Govt. of India. In a landmark decision the NHRC said When the information
received indicates that death was caused in the encounter as a result
of the firing by police, prima-facie the ingredients of Section 299 IPC
which defines culpable homicides, are satisfied.
This is sufficient
to suspect that an offence of culpable homicide has been committed .Thus,
Section 157 of the code is attracted calling for investigation. Accordingly
NHRC recommended Any plea like causing of the death in the case does not
constitute an offence either because it was done in exercise of the right
of private defence or in exercise of the right of arrest conferred by
section 46 of the code, can be accepted only after investigating into
the facts and circumstances. NHRC further recommended To avoid the possibility
of bias, the investigation in such cases should be entrusted to an independent
agency NHRC also commented, The hardship of the state, in our views, cannot
take away or abridge the guarantee under article 21 of the Constitution
or Article 6 of the Covenant (ICCPR) and while enforcing the guarantee
and working in favour of its sustenance in full form, we cannot invoke
the doctrine of necessity and apply it as a cover against the fundamental
right [ REF : NHRC FILE NOS. 234 (1-6), 1993-94 PARAS 25-28]
8. All eyewitness accounts emphatically stated that a second man was injured
in the Belmuri incident on 21.4.03 and that the police had taken him away.
Since this they witnessed after being aware of the events, there can be
no falsification or conjecture. Newspapers including the ruling party
organ Ganashakti usually report such incidents basing solely on police
briefings. All such reports stated that a second man was also injured,
whom the police had taken away. But now that second man has simply vanished.
According to SI Chakrabarty accomplishes of Subhash Sahani were all criminals
from different areas. No body would know immediately if a criminal from
a different area is subjected to enforced disappearance in a Hooghly village.
The apprehension is
particularly grave because we know how Bhikhari Paswan was subjected to
enforced disappearance and the whole police and district administration
fabricated and tampered records to protect the murderer police officials.
And also to be noted that the PS involved is the same Bhadreswar PS again.
III. Demands of the APDR
A case of culpable homicide must be started against SI Debashis Chakrabarty,
O/C, Bhadreswar PS who claimed to have killed Subhash Sahani on 21.4.03
at Belmuri and procedures set up under section 157 Cr.P.C. shall have
to be followed in the investigation of the case
A thorough investigation shall have to be made into the whole episode.
Such investigation shall have to be entrusted to an independent agency.
and identity of the second person injured and arrested on 21.4.03 at
Belmuri shall have to be disclosed.
for APDR fact finding
Secretary, Hooghly Dist.
Dist Hooghly, W.B., PIN 712105
President: Jatin Lahiri
Working President : Amitadyuti Kumar
Secretary : Sanjib Acharya.