At a time when the encounter killing of the accused in the horrific gangrape and murder of a veterinary doctor in Hyderabad has raised questions over vigilante justice, conflicting signals have been emerging from the Telangana government about the police operation.
While Cyberabad’s police commissioner VC Sajjanar, widely hailed for the pre-dawn encounter in which the four accused were eliminated, maintains that the policemen had to open fire at the accused in self defence, T Srinivas Yadav, a senior minister says it was a ‘pre-planned operation’ to teach the rapists a lesson and to serve as a deterrent for potential criminals.
Crediting Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao for the operation, the minister said, “It is doubtful if justice would have been served through courts because the Indian judicial process will go on forever. This encounter is a message to all sexual predators that if they commit a crime, they can expect to be eliminated by the police.”
Yadav, who holds the animal husbandry portfolio, claimed that Telangana had now set a “model” for other states in terms of dealing with the heinous crimes.
“There was public pressure for action to ensure justice to the rape victim. The pre-dawn encounter of the accused would not have happened without permission from the above,” he said when asked whether the top leadership in the government approved such an action.
All the four accused—Mohammad Arif, Jollu Naveen, Jollu Shiva and Ch Chennakeshavulu—were shot dead by the police on Friday (December 6) near Shadnagar on the city outskirts at the same spot where the charred body of the rape victim was found a week ago.
“This is a lesson that if your conduct is wrong, there won’t be court, jail and getting out of prison just because the case drags on. Nothing like that anymore. Through this encounter, the message is that if you do any wrong and something so cruel, at the end, there will be an encounter. That is a very strong message. This is ideal for the country. We are a model state not just for our welfare and development schemes but also for our law and order,” Yadav said.
The minister’s assertion contradicts the police version of the events leading to the killing of the accused while they were under police custody.
On his part, the chief minister has remained silent so far on the incident while his son and industries minister KT Rama Rao had tweeted a couple of days before the encounter, advocating capital punishment for rapes.
“The accused were taken to the spot for reconstructing the crime. However, one of them snatched a weapon from the police and started firing while trying to flee the scene. The officers warned them and asked them to surrender but they continued to fire. Then, we returned the fire, killing them on the spot,” the police commissioner said. The entire operation lasted 10-15 minutes, he said.
A 10-member team from Shadnagar police station, located around 50 kilometres from Hyderabad, took the accused to the crime scene as part of the investigation. The accused were taken to an under-bridge near Chatanpalli village where the burnt body of the rape-murder victim were found.
However, the very move to take the accused to the crime scene at that time of the night has raised questions. The reason given by the police was that since the public has been baying for the blood of the accused, they had to be taken to the spot under the cover of darkness.
“The police opened fire in self-defence, leading to the death of all the four accused,” the top cop maintained.
Incidentally, Sajjanar, who has now come to be hailed as ‘encounter specialist’, was the superintendent of police of Warangal district in 2008 when three accused in an acid attack case were shot dead in a similar encounter near Telangana’s Warangal town.
Ironically, it was the same police which came under severe attack earlier for failing to act in time and prevent the crime. When the parents of the veterinarian approached the police when she went missing on November 27, they refused to register the complaint citing jurisdictional issues and search around the toll plaza near Shamshabad from where the victim was abducted.
Following the encounter, the policemen have become heroes overnight and started trending on the social media. From politicians across the parties and celebrities to film stars and sports personalities, there has been a flood of congratulatory messages hailing the policemen for their bravery.
SIT set up
Meanwhile, the state government has constituted a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to probe the encounter. The SIT, headed by Rachakonda Commissioner of Police Mahesh M Bhagwat, will immediately begin investigation into the case and examine the evidence gathered so far by the Cyberabad police.
The SIT will probe the case under IPC sections 307 (attempt to murder), 394 (voluntarily causing hurt in committing robbery), 224 (resistance or obstruction by a person to his lawful apprehension), 332 (voluntarily causing hurt to deter public servant from his duty).
A notification issued by the state Chief Secretary SK Joshi said that the team consisted of seven other police officers drawn from various divisions.
The development comes in the backdrop of two petitions being filed before the Supreme Court seeking a probe into the encounter. The Telangana High Court is also hearing a writ petition filed by civil rights activists seeking an independent investigation into the police action. The court has directed the government to preserve the bodies of the four men till Monday (December 9) and sought a CD of the video recording of the postmortem.
Referring to Supreme Court guidelines, the notification said the investigation into such cases shall be entrusted to an independent investigation agency or police team of another police station under the supervision of a senior officer.
It said that a SIT was necessary for sustained and focused investigation, and all the government agencies, including the state police, would extend all possible assistance to the team, keeping in view the sensitivity of the case.