A high-power commission headed by the retired Supreme Court judge, Santosh Hegde, will probe six encounter deaths in Manipur.
A Bench of Justices Aftab Alam and Ms. Ranjana Desai passed this order on a writ petition by the Extra Judicial Execution Victim Families Association, which complained that over 1,500 fake encounter deaths had occurred in the State in the last 10 years.
The Bench said: “This matter requires a further careful and deeper consideration.” It rejected Manipur’s contention that “the occasion for this court to examine those cases would arise only if it holds that the NHRC had failed to perform its statutory functions in safeguarding human rights of the people in the State.”
The Bench said entrusting the probe to the National Human Rights Commission “will completely dissipate the vigour and vitality of Article 32 of the Constitution.”
The Bench said “Article 21 coupled with 32 provides the finest guarantee and most effective protection of the most precious of all rights — the right to life and personal liberty. Any indication of violation of this right would put all the faculties of this court on high alert to find out the truth. In case the court finds that there has, in fact, been violation of the right, it would be the court’s bounden duty to step in to protect those rights against the unlawful onslaught by the state. We, therefore, see no reason not to examine the matter directly but only vicariously and second-hand, through the agency of the NHRC.”
The Supreme Court said: “It is true that Manipur is a disturbed area, that there appears to be a good amount of terrorist activity affecting the public order and, maybe, even security of that State. If the police version of the incidents in question were true, there could have been no question of any interference by the court. Nobody can say the police should wait till they are shot at. It is for the force on the spot to decide when to act, how to act and where to act. It is not for the court to say how the terrorists should be fought. We cannot be blind to the fact that even after 50 years of our independence, our territorial integrity is not fully secure. We request the commission to make a thorough enquiry in the first six cases.”
The commission, which includes the former Chief Election Commissioner, J.M. Lyngdoh, and the former DGP, Karnataka, Ajay Kumar Singh, would also address the larger question of the role of the State police and the security forces and make a report on their functioning within 12 weeks. If it was found that they violated legal bounds, the commission should make its recommendations for keeping the police and security forces within the legal limits without compromising on the fight against insurgency, the Bench said.