The reference is to incidents that occurred during 2002-06

Dealing a blow to the Narendra Modi government in Gujarat, the Supreme Court on Wednesday asked the Monitoring Authority (MA) headed by M.B. Shah, a retired Supreme Court judge, to probe all fake encounter deaths in the State from 2002 to 2006.

A Bench of Justices Aftab Alam and C.K. Prasad passed the order on two petitions filed by Javed Akthar, B.G. Varghese and others for a direction to order a CBI probe into the 22 fake encounters that had taken place during the period. After hearing counsel Prashant Bhushan and Nitya Ramakrishnan, the Bench asked the MA to probe the killings and file its report within three months.

The Bench said: “Having regard to the fact that a Monitoring Authority has been put in place and a former judge of this court is its chairman, we desire the chairman to look into all instances of the alleged fake encounters mentioned in the two writ petitions.”

Earlier, when counsel insisted on a thorough probe, senior counsel Ranjit Kumar, appearing for the State, denied the allegations and questioned the bona fides of the petitioners. Justice Alam told counsel: “It is no point questioning the bona fides of the petitioners. Why in Gujarat when the matter comes [up before court] the State initially stoutly and vehemently denies it. When the matter is scratched even slightly the fact comes to light and then the State government admits it as a fake encounter.”

Anguished

Justice Alam, expressing his anguish, told Mr. Kumar: “It has happened on more than two times in this court [Sohrabuddin and Tulsiram Prajapati] and in the Gujarat High Court also. Why should the Gujarat government be seen running away [from the probe]?”

The Bench said: “We want the investigation to be thorough so that truth in each case is revealed. It will be open for the MA chairman to constitute an independent team either with officers from the Gujarat Special Task Force or from outside.”

It would also be open for the MA to call for earlier police and case records or records from human rights bodies on any encounter death mentioned in the writ petitions.

However, the Bench made it clear that the MA would not probe cases being investigated by other agencies on orders of the Supreme Court or the Gujarat High Court. The MA “if so desires, could give hearing to petitioners in the case or kin of the victims of encounter deaths.”