Issues notice to Centre, A.P. on ‘encounter' killing of Azad, journalist

The Supreme Court on Friday sought the response of the Union and the Andhra Pradesh governments on two petitions seeking a judicial inquiry into the alleged encounter killings of Cherukuri Rajkumar alias Azad, spokesperson of the Communist Party of India (Maoist), and journalist Hemchandra Pandey by the Andhra Pradesh police on the night of July 1 last year.

A Bench of Justices Aftab Alam and R.M. Lodha issued the notice, returnable in six weeks, after hearing counsel Prashant Bhushan, appearing for petitioners Swami Agnivesh and Pandey's wife Bineeta Pandey.

Justice Alam orally observed: “Our Republic cannot bear the stain to kill its own children. We will issue notice. They will have to respond. We hope there will be good and convincing answer to the questions [raised in the petitions].”

The petitioners said the post mortem reports and fact-finding carried out by the Coordination of Democratic Rights Organisations (CDRO) clearly indicated that it was not a genuine encounter and that Azad and Pandey were killed in blatant violation of their rights under Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution.

Azad was carrying a letter from Swami Agnivesh for peace talks when he was taken into custody along with Pandey. Then Swami Agnivesh sent a letter to Azad, suggesting three possible dates for starting a 72-hour suspension of armed resistance by the CPI (Maoist) and simultaneous cessation of action by the government forces. During that period, the government would invite Maoists for talks and initiate a mutual ceasefire agreement, the petitioners said.

However, on the intervening night of July 1-2, both Azad and Pandey were killed. According to the CPI (Maoist), Azad was scheduled to meet local contact Sahadev in Nagpur at 11 a.m. on July 1 and travel to the Dandakaranya forests for meeting senior Maoists to discuss Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram's proposal and likely dates for a ceasefire.

But he never turned up for the meeting.

“The alleged encounter, if proved fake — as indicated by the CDRO report — is in blatant violation of Article 21.” The refusal to initiate an inquiry, despite questions raised about the veracity of a police investigation by human rights activists, organisations and sections of the media, and the disruption it caused to the peace process initiated by the Home Minister himself were “unreasonable and arbitrary” and raised serious questions about the bona fides of the Home Ministry, the petitioners said.