The shooting by Uttar Pradesh police of gangster Vikas Dubey to death, has intensified the concerns about the law and order and justice system of the country. Vikas Dubey may be a criminal who deserves the most stringent punishment, but the circumstances and method in which he was killed give rise to suspicions. Dubey is accused in over 60 cases including murder. The most recent act by the underworld don is of killing eight policemen. He was captured after his absconding and the next day the police shot him to death.
The police explains the events leading to his death this way: a team of Special Task Force (STF) was taking him from Madhya Pradesh to Uttar Pradesh, when on the way the vehicle overturned while attempting to dodge a herd of cows; Dubey who was thrown out of the vehicle snatched the rifle from a policemen, got out and started firing shots, and during the counter-shooting by police, he was injured and taken to hospital; but by the time they reached there, he was dead. It does not take any expertise to say that this story is not entirely credible. Dubey knew even earlier that the police were planning to kill him in an ecnounter. And his surrender at a temple in public in Madhya Pradesh was said to be to avoid an 'encounter'. After the incident of killing policemen, the police killed five of Dubey's accomplices one after another.
The 'encounter' took place within an hour after the police blocked and diverted the media crew who had chased the police team. But wasn't Dubey, a dangerous criminal, handcuffed? Was the rifle of the police kept in such a convenient manner as to be snatched? How could it be that the accused who was prepared to surrender, came out of the vehicle on the way into an open area with no place to hide, and shot bullets in front of a large police team? The ridiculously absurd police narrative itself gives some clues. That they did not bother to make a fabricated tale at least appear plausible, means that they do not care even if it is known for a fake encounter.
Fake encounters constitute an open challenge against rule of law and the judiciary. The Supreme Court had received a petition from a lawyer pleading that Dubey was likely to be killed in fake encounter and that he should be given protection from that. But before the petition was taken up by the Court, the police accomplished its job. Following the killing of Dubey, there has been a series of petitions and statements demanding action. One by PUCL submits that the police version raises many serious questions. Another petition by a man named Anoop Prakas Avasthi asks the court, " shall we close our honourable courts, prosecution agencies and dismantle the system of administration of criminal justice as the trigger-happy cops in Uttar Pradesh do not need them?"
Even as it remains common knowledge that the police does not have the authority to punish criminals and thugs, fake encounters have become the norm in certain states. If it comes to a pass that the police itself determines the criminal and punishes them, the first risk is that innocents will be killed, and numerous innocents have been killed by the police. Further, the high-handed act of the police will lead to at least some of the criminals escaping. With the liquidation of criminals who will also be able to provide evidence about a crime, such evidence will lie buried for ever. In the case of Vikas Dubey, there is a strong body of opinion that he was eliminated in order not to let proofs against the higher-ups come out.
Circumstances also point to such a possibility. Dubey began his criminal career in 2001, when BJP's Rajnath was the chief minister, by killing a top BJP leader Santosh Shukla in the presence of several policemen. Dubey was acquitted in the case for want of evidence: and there was not a single policeman ready to bear witness. Since then, Dubey grew into a goon leader with the support of political parties like BJP, SP and BSP. The hearsay is that once Dubey is brought alive to the court for trial, the list of political parties whose veil will fall apart, will not be short.
Encounter deaths also tell us that many centres of power are enlarged versions of Vikas Dubey. For that very reason, this is a case where the judiciary has to intervene on its own. The demand for enquiry into fake encounters had been raised earlier too. And the High Court of Andhra had issued a judgement in 2009 that even in encounter deaths, FIR has to be filed against the policemen involved and that a judicial magistrate should decide whether further action was necessary against the policemen.
In an earlier petition filed by PUCL following encounter deaths in Maharashtra, the Supreme Court had also issued certain guidelines. But Vikas Dubey's death proves that none of this was enforced. This is also another opportunity for the judiciary to recapture its authority. What is needed now is to conduct an independent and credible probe into Dubey's killing, under the supervision of the Supreme Court. Another enquiry about fake encounters in general is also warranted.