PUCL, October 2003

(Tamil Nadu & Pondicherry)
‘Husain House’, II Floor, 7/1 Kondi Chetty St., Chennai 600 001
Ph: 25245412, 25392459 e-mail : rights@vsnl.com
National Council Member: Sudha Ramalingam
President : R. Niraimathi General Secretary: Dr. V. Suresh


“Wiping out” Gangs : The Tamil Nadu police an anathema of rule of law
Unlawful killings by the police in Tamil Nadu

The People’s Union for Civil Liberties (Tamil Nadu & Pondicherry) would like to register in the strongest terms, our condemnation of the statement of the Joint Commissioner of Police (Central), Mr. M.K.Jha who is reported in the Hindu dated 13.10.2003 that the police will “WIPE OUT” gangs involved in illegal mediation (Katta panchayat). We would like to point out that such language is not only intemperate and undignified but also mirrors the way some in the police view human beings – as vermins to be exterminated. It also reflects the scorn and disregard for human rights and rule of law. The role of the police is limited to investigation and prosecution of offences and securing justice through the courts of law.

They do not have the authority to dispense summary justice as witnessed by the increasing trend of executions by way of `encounter deaths’. These summary executions make the police as guilty as those dealing in katta panchayat, if not more so.

We would like to record our concern over the continuing trend of encounter killings taking place in Chennai city and in the State. The shooting down of Venkatesan `Pannayar’ on 26.9.2003 by a special squad of the City Police in his apartment in a residential complex is the latest in a spate of encounter deaths all over the city in recent months. What is disturbing is that about 18 persons have been shot dead in encounters in the last two and a half years, with a shocking number of ten encounter deaths within the last 12 months itself.

What concerns us is that in none of the encounter incidents have the police been able to nab the main person highlighted by the police by catchy soubriquets like `kingpins’, `desperadoes’, `ganglords’ and so on. In all the cases the police have painted a picture of the persons killed as being major underworld dons or gang leaders who shot at the police who retaliated killing them on the spot. The repeated failure of the police in not being able to apprehend the main culprit and of being forced to fatally shoot down the persons points out to only one of two alternatives: either the police strategy is highly flawed and the police is also highly inefficient in their ability to apprehend hard core criminals; if this is not true, then the police defence of firing in self defence is a mere fig leaf to cover deliberately made decisions to eliminate or liquidate persons found threatening to the ruling political, economic and bureaucratic interests.

A moot question remains to be asked: how could such criminals become so powerful without the overt and covert support of politicians and corrupt bureaucrats in the administration and police? What have the police done in tracking down the support received by these criminal gang lords from politicians and officials and prosecuting them for the same? The famous VORA COMMITTEE REPORT comprehensively established the intimate links between corrupt politicians, bureaucrats and criminals and the way in which these interests have been able to use the law and the State institutions to their advantage. The mafia interests have aggrandized so much powers to themselves that they have become a law unto themselves; at the same time, they have openly been using the very same institutions of law enforcement to silence anyone daring to challenge them. Surely Tamil Nadu is not an exception to this national malady.


The police cannot use the fact of the killing of the so called criminals to close the cases in investigating which they were reportedly forced to shoot down the dead persons. Prosecution should be launched against all persons, be they politicians, officials or others. Apropos the legal maxim, justice should not only be done but be seen to be done.

PUCL would like to highlight that the law of the country does not empower police officials to shoot and kill persons. Even in those exceptional cases when the police are forced to shoot in self defence the law of the land dictates that FIRs must be registered in every encounter death and investigation conducted. The plea of self defence can be taken by the police only at the time of trial.

We stress that the police are covered by the same laws as everyone else in this country. Should a person kill another person, the settled position in law is that a case of homicide must be registered against the killer and a prosecution begun. If the killing was done as an act of self-defense, the person may state that in his or her trial – but they cannot escape trial itself.
The same rule applies to police officers. This has been stressed by a Division Bench of the High Court of Andhra Pradesh (K.G. Kannabiran v. Chief Secretary, Government of Andhra Pradesh, 1997 )and by the National Human Rights Commission, both of which have ruled that cases must be registered against police personnel responsible for encounter deaths. It is for the courts to decide whether or not a killing was an act of self-defense. The police do not have any power to simply excuse themselves from investigation and trial.

We would like to point out that we are not suggesting that persons with criminal antecedents and records be allowed to operate freely or that they should not be prosecuted or apprehended. To the contrary, we support legal action against all crime breakers, their sponsors and supporters, whoever and wherever they are. What we are against is the police taking law into their own hands and using their brute power to dispense summary justice in the form of staged encounter killings. The police have a duty and constitutional obligation to follow the procedures prescribed in law and to work within the four corners of the law.

We also call upon all citizens to support this demand. We stress repeatedly that the issue is not the guilt or innocence of the person killed or their alleged crimes. The issue is that, in a democracy, the police have to be held to the same rules and the same laws as the rest of us. If we do otherwise, we are opening the doors for a lawless state – and soon we will find that there are no rules or laws left at all.

Thus, the PUCL demands that the government take the following actions:

  1. Register cases against the police personnel responsible for the various encounter deaths which have taken place.
  2. Ensure that these cases are investigated by an independent agency, such as the CBI;
  3. Register cases and prosecute all the other police personnel involved in the recent spate of encounter killings.

As we have pointed out encounters killings is today becoming more than an exceptional phenomena; it has rather become an accepted strategy of the police. It is ironical that when even courts are mandated by law to give special reasons before imposing death penalty the Tamil Nadu police are carrying out summary executions with impunity. International covenants advocate abolition of death sentence. Our Supreme Court has advocated the imposition of death penalty only in the rarest of rare cases. Unmindful of this, the State Police by declaring that gangs will be “wiped out” has not only given a go by to the fundamental principle that every accused is presumed innocent till proved guilty but have also demonstrated that they are above the law.

Members of civil society bear a responsibility to raise their voices against such recourse to unbridled use of force by the police and ensure that the police comply with the rule of law.

Yours sincerely,

V. Suresh
(Dr. V. Suresh)
General Secretary

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