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In a country with poor human rights record and rampant violations of fundamental right to life of citizens, the Supreme Court ruling is a positive step towards accountability. The Supreme Court made it clear that policemen, who are part of encounters that result in deaths of individuals , have to necessarily face FIRs, trial, etc. A three judge bench of Justice Ranjan Gogoi, Justice Depak Gupta and Justice Anirudha Bose upheld a ten- year -old judgment of a five- judge bench of AP HC that ordered registration of FIRs against all those persons whose discharge of duties resulted in deaths of individuals. (SC upholds AP HC order on FIR against cops in encounter cases, updated July 19 2019, www.timesofindia.indiatimes.com) . This is a landmark verdict.

History

In 2006, AP Civil Liberties Committee had challenged the killings of 8 Naxalites by the police in an encounter and wanted them to be booked for culpable homicides. A large bench of High Court in its judgment said that police cannot get away with the plea of self-defence at the stage of FIR and mere magisterial enquiry is not substitute for a summary trial. The AP Police officers association along with officer association of other states had challenged APHC order in SC. The bench heard rival contentions of Civil Liberties which said police cannot act as judges to their own cases and close cases at will after killing people , and police officer associations argument that booking cases of murder against police would affect their morale.

The SC in its order said FIRs should be registered against cops in encounter cases and jurisdictional courts must be informed about it. (BAR AND BENCH, lawgupshup.com The guidelines issued in PUCL versus Maharashtra by SC are applicable in all the cases.

A glimmer of hope

This is one of the rare positive verdicts of the apex court . After long struggles by people in various organizations like civil liberties committees, human rights groups and those who have been affected by encounters along with ordinary masses, the court delivered a verdict that seeks accountability from the Establishment.

The Court should also take concrete steps in implementing its judgment all over the country. Many innocents are being killed in fake encounters and so far, convictions have been very low. The verdict highlights crucial problem of human rights and gross violation of fundamental rights guaranteed to citizens in the constitution.

On various occasions, SC expressed opinion on encounter killings in UP and Manipur. In Uttar Pradesh, the court ordered for hearing on 17 encounter cases earlier this year and termed it ‘ very serious matter’ requiring detailed hearing. (Uttar Pradesh :SC orders hearing on 17 encounter cases…. Bhasha Singh, published 15 Jan 2019, nationalheraldindia.com). Similarly, in Manipur Supreme Court directed CBI probe into extra judicial killings and fake encounter cases .(Manipur welcomes SC order on ‘ fake encounters, by K. Sarojkumar Sharma, updated July 15 2017, timesofindia.indiatimes.com). Thus, there were instances of the Court recognizing the atrocities committed by police and military on common people.

Hopefully, Supreme Court takes some drastic concrete steps in at least reducing killings on the ground of ‘ encounter’ and directing the authorities to punish officers or personnel who are responsible for encounters.

Sheshu Babu is a political commentator


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