For Telangana police, December 6 will be remembered as a black day. Justice VS Sirpurkar Commission has removed the veil of doubt from the happenings of 2019 when the police killed four men accused of gang rape and the preceding murder of a veterinary doctor near Hyderabad. In spite of doubts over the police version of the encounter, December 6 was etched in gold by the police. But, the ugly side of the date has been made public by the commission.
On that date, Cyberabad Police Commissioner V C Sajjanar had announced that the four accused in the rape and murder of a 27-year-old woman veterinarian were killed in an ‘encounter’ with police in the early hours of the day. The accused, the Commissioner said, were taken to Chattanpally, 30 km from Hyderabad, post-midnight in an attempt to recreate the crime scene. But they tried to escape after attacking the police, which resulted in their death in police encounter, te said.
The news was greeted with joy in social media and ordinary people as well as celebrities celebrating it. Samajwadi party MP Jaya Bachchan said, “Der aaye, durust aaye… der aaye…der aaye, bohot der aaye (This came very late, but it turned out right in the end),” when the media asked her for comment. She was happy because a couple of days ago she had said in Parliament that the Hyderabad rape accused should be lynched in public. Though in a different form, her wish was realised.
Moreover, Cyberabad police, especially commissioner Sajjanar, were feted as heroes. The media swung into action to glorify Sajjanar’s personality and family background, while some recalled the previous encounters during his tenure as SP in Warangal.
Youth, who gathered at the encounter site in large numbers to celebrate the killing of the alleged accused, lifted policemen into air and sprinkled petals over the cops. Slogans such as ‘Hyderabad Police Zindabad’ were raised. The alleged encounter took place at an underpass near village Chattanpally, where the accused reportedly burnt the body of the victim.
But, Justice VS Sirpurkar Commission, appointed by the Supreme Court to inquire into the alleged encounter, unequivocally said the encounter was fake and the police version was unbelievable.
The report of the commission — that comprised former Bombay High Court Judge Justice Rekha Baldota and former CBI director Karthikeyan as members — concluded that the four deceased-accused Mohammad Arif, Jollu Shiva, Jollu Naveen, Chintakuntal Chennakesavulu, were “deliberately fired upon by the police with intent to cause their death and with the knowledge that the firing would result in their death.”
The panel said that “after considering the entire material on record, we conclude that the deceased have not committed any offence in connection with the incident on 06.12.2019 like snatching the weapons, attempt to escape from the custody, assaulting and firing at the police party.” The panel also recommended that the 10 cops — Surender, K Narasimha Reddy, Shaik Lal Madhar, Mohammed Sirajuddin, Kocherla Ravi, K Venkateshwarulu, S Arvind Goud, D Janakiram, R Balu Rathod and D Srikanth – be tried for the acts committed by each of them.
Possible course of action
C Nagendranath, an advocate, is of the opinion that a prosecution will be initiated as per the recommendations of the report. “The panel’s report is a serious indictment of the police. Now that the SC panel has rejected the version of the police encounter, the question that arises is how the deceased accused were killed and how. So, the police involved in the offence have to be tried under Section 302 r/w 34 IPC, 201 r/w 302 IPC, and 34 IPC,” he said
“The commission report has cleared many doubts that commonly go unasked when police recite the same old story that the accused tried to escape and tried to fire at the police, snatching the pistol from them. The case was closed by the police following the encounter and it was happy that the people had bought their story. Justice Sirpurkar’s report will make the cover-up of police killings as encounter difficult,” Nagendranath said.
Prof Nageswar Rao, a noted commentator, opined that the report highlighted the urgency of strengthening criminal justice delivery system. “People want quick justice, while in reality it takes decades. In heinous crimes like that of Disha (the name given to veterinary doctor who was raped and killed), people fear justice will be denied by inordinate delay. So, they exert pressure, both on political and police establishments, for a quick delivery of justice. This pressure forces them to commit this type of fake encounters to pacify the crowds,” he said, stating that striking a balance between people’s fear of ‘justice delayed is justice denied’ and the judicial motto of ‘justice hurried is justice buried’, is the need of the hour. “What is needed is the political will to act on this type of reports,” he said.
Options before HC
As per the Supreme Court directive, the High Court has to reinvestigate the issue of fake encounter. According to a senior advocate from Telangana High Court, there are two options before the HC now. “One is the state police. Since the SIT report was rubbished by the Justice Sirpurkar panel. the chances of again entrusting the case with another state agency are minimal. The second option is the CBI. Given the political scenario, the state government may not agree for an inquiry by a central agency. In such case, the HC will appoint amicus curiae to guide it. It cannot be speculated now,” the advocate, who did not want to be named, said.
B Sumati, a public prosecutor, said the SC panel’s report should not be treated as verdict and final. “The panel has come to a conclusion based on certain material it had gathered. Its finding is not sacrosanct. The High Court will order re-investigation of the mater though an agency. So, before jumping to conclusions, one has to wait till the re-investigation is completed,” Sumati said.