The Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled that an independent and thorough investigation should be held into encounter deaths to restore the faith of the public in the police force.
The court also held that no out-of-turn promotion or gallantry award should be given to police officers involved in encounter killings unless the gallantry was proved beyond reasonable doubt.
Passing the judgment, a three-judge Bench led by Chief Justice of India R.M. Lodha said the right to live with dignity applied to all and the state had no right to take the law in its hands by way of extra-judicial killings.
Quoting from the 2011 verdict in Prakash Kadam case, the judgment authored by CJI Lodha recounted how “policemen would not be excused for committing murder in the name of ‘encounter’ on the pretext that they were carrying out the orders of their superior officers or politicians.”
“Killings in police encounters require independent investigation. The killings affect the credibility of the rule of law and the administration of the criminal justice system,” the CJI wrote in the 32-page verdict.
The court laid down the law on police behaviour in case of encounter deaths through a series of procedural requirements to be followed strictly. Among these, the court held that no police officer should be given out-of-turn promotion or gallantry award immediately after an encounter death but only after the gallantry was proved beyond doubt.
An independent investigation into the encounter death should be done by the CID or officers from another police station who were not involved in the incident. The probe should be scientific, well-documented and provide a decisive finding on the nature of death in question.
The probe should be open to a magisterial inquiry and any dissatisfaction about its fairness could be challenged before a sessions judge, the court held.
Procedural rules also include recording of intelligence tip-off, registering of FIR and providing immediate medical aid to the suspect shot or inform his family in case of death. State Directors-General of Police would have to report encounter deaths before the National Human Rights Commission every six months.
“We are not oblivious of the fact that police in India have to perform a difficult and delicate task, particularly, when many hardcore criminals, extremists, terrorists, drug peddlers, smugglers who have organised gangs, have taken strong roots in the society. But then, such criminals must be dealt with by the police in an efficient and effective manner so as to bring them to justice by following the rule of law,” the judgment reasoned.
The verdict came on a batch of PILs led by NGO People’s Union for Civil Liberties questioning the genuineness of 99 encounters between the Mumbai Police and alleged criminals resulting in the death of about 135 persons between 1995 and 1997.