SC commission to probe Gujarat encounter killings

SC commission to probe Gujarat encounter killings New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Wednesday asked the monitoring authority headed by its former judge to look into the killings in alleged fake encounters between 2002 to 2006 in Gujarat "so that the truth can come out".

Gujarat government had appointed former apex court judge M B Shah in April last year to monitor the investigation into the killings in the alleged fake encounters which purportedly showed a pattern that people from the minority community were targeted as terrorists.

"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.

"We want the investigation to be thorough so that the truth in each case is revealed," a bench comprising justices Aftab Alam and C K Prasad said while asking the Chairman of the monitoring authority to place before it the preliminary report on the issue within three months.

The two PILs filed by veteran journalist B G Verghese and poet and lyricist Javed Akhtar had sought a direction for a probe by an independent agency or CBI so that the "truth may come out".

The bench said it will be open for the chairman of the monitoring authority to constitute an independent team either with officer from Gujarat Special Task Force (STF) or from outside "considering the sensitivity of the matter" as some senior officers of the state police force have been accused of killing people in fake encounters.

The court said it will also be open for the chairman of the monitoring authority to call for earlier police and case records or records from human rights bodies in respect of any encounter death which has been mentioned in the writ petitions.

However, the bench clarified that the monitoring authority will not go into the cases which are being investigated by other agencies on orders of the apex court.

It also said the chairman of the monitoring authority, if so desires, could give hearing to petitioners in the case or kin of the victims of encounter deaths and could also decide on giving monetary compensation for victims' family.

The judges said the petitions on the issue were pending for several years but no substantive order was passed till date and subsequent developments like appointment of STF and setting up of monitoring authority had taken place during the pendency of the matter.

Gujarat government had on April 7 and September 18, 2010, come out with the notifications for constituting the STF to investigate the cases of encounter killings and appointment of Justice (Retd) M B Shah as the chairman of the monitoring authority respectively.

The bench, which perused the notifications, noted that "it appears that the monitoring authority has sufficient, adequate and complete power to guide the STF investigation on encounter death".

The PIL, filed by Verghese, had sought an inquiry into 21 alleged fake encounter killings by the police in Gujarat during the period.

Akhtar had sought a probe by a special investigation team (SIT) into the alleged fake encounters in the state, claiming innocent people, particularly from Muslim community, were being targeted as terrorists.

Verghese had said the pattern of killings showed there was a need for investigation and sought a direction to the Centre and Gujarat government to order an inquiry into the encounter killings and compensation to the next of the kin.

Akhtar, in his petition, had cited news reports and a sting operation done by a news magazine into the killing of an alleged criminal Sameer Khan in October 2002.

The bench in its order noted his allegation that it was a fake encounter and that there was an attempt for its "cover up" by Gujarat government.

Khan, who was in police custody, was killed on the intervening night of October 21-22, 2002, when he allegedly snatched the revolver of a policeman who had accompanied him with a team to a spot where he had allegedly murdered a constable.

An FIR was registered alleging that Khan was involved in a conspiracy hatched by Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) to assassinate Gujarat Chief Minister Narender Modi and other leaders. Akhtar, who jointly filed the petition along with social activist Shabnam Hashmi, had alleged it was the same team of Gujarat police which allegedly killed Sohrabuddin Sheikh in the fake encounter and later murdered his wife Kauser Bi.

Their petitions, filed through advocate Prashant Bhushan, had contended there were other media reports of alleged killings of innocent persons in fake encounters by the same team of Gujarat police and sought investigation by an SIT into the "cover-up".