By Sheshu Babu*
In a country with poor human rights record and rampant violations of fundamental right to life of citizens, Supreme Court (SC) rulings appear to be a glimmer of hope, indeed a positive step towards accountability. This is seen from the apex court’s recent insistence that policemen, who are part of encounters that result in deaths of individuals, have to necessarily face FIRs, trial, etc.
In a landmark judgment, 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 the Andhra Pradesh High Court (APHC) that ordered registration of FIRs against all those persons whose discharge of duties resulted in the deaths of individuals.
In 2006, an Andhra Pradesh civil liberties committee had challenged the killings of eight Naxalites by the police in an encounter and wanted them to be booked for culpable homicides. A larger bench of the High Court in its judgment had 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 Andhra police officers’ association, along with officers’ associations of other states, challenged the APHC order in SC. The bench heard rival contentions of the civil liberties committee, which said, the police cannot act as judges to their own cases and close cases at will after killing people, and police officers’ 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.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 apex court should also take concrete steps to ensure implementation of 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 a crucial problem of human rights and gross violation of fundamental rights guaranteed to citizens in the Constitution.
On other occasions, SC has expressed opinion on encounter killings in Uttar Pradesh and Manipur. As for Uttar Pradesh, the court ordered for hearing on 17 encounter cases earlier this year and termed it ‘very serious matter’ requiring detailed hearing.
Similarly, in Manipur the Supreme Court directed a CBI probe into extra judicial killings and fake encounter cases . Thus, there were instances of the Court recognizing the atrocities committed by police and military on common people.
Hopefully, the apex 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.
*The writer from everywhere and anywhere is interested in human rights