The death of Vikas Dubey, notorious gangster and accused in over 60 criminal cases, in an encounter in Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh after being caught in a temple in Ujjain, had immediately become subject of criticism from various quarters as an act of fake 'encounter' by UP police. He was killed while being escorted from Ujjain to Kanpur. As per the official version, when the car in which he was travelling overturned he snatched the rifle from the policemen, got off the vehicle and ran away – a narrative no one has so far taken at its face value.
There was a petition filed before the Supreme Court stating that he would be killed in an 'encounter' the day he was caught, and it adds to the inexplicability of the incident that it was within hours of the petition being filed that he was killed. When opposition parties including the Congress, human rights groups and the media pointed their steady fingers at the government of Yogi Adityanath in UP and the state's police, the government was left with no alternative but to appoint a one-man commission to probe the incident. The probe team was led by retired judge Shashi Kant Agarwal of Allahahad High Court. But in a recent development in the matter, when it came up before the Supreme Court, the three-judge bench led by chief justice SA Bobde directed the UP government to expand the commission to include a retired judge and a former DGP. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who appeared for the government, was informed that the court would consider today the names recommended by the state government.
In a significant comment, the apex court had already observed that there was substance in the plea by the senior counsel Sanjay Parikh, who appeared for PUCL (People's Union for Civil Liberties), that ever since Yogi Adityanath took office as chief minister, there had been 6126 police encounters in which 122 people had died. The chief justice also recalled that this is not limited to the case under hearing, but a whole system is affected. And that is exactly what puts in the dock the state government led by Yogi Adityanath, the biggest favourite of Hindutva extremists. A former Hindu Yuvavahini head, who was not even in the fray for the legislative assembly election, Yogi was anointed as chief minister, and why the BJP showed special interest in that process has since been sufficiently made clear through all the actions and incidents under his rule.
Since then UP has been witness to a spate of statements and deeds throwing to the winds human rights and rule of law. And Yogi got a police force quite fitting that call. UP's is a police that is almost a stranger to the primary principle that when an accused, real or fake, is caught, a case is to be registered, an FIR prepared through investigation of facts and the same is to be submitted to the court. Even if the case reaches the court, most often the alleged culprits may not live long enough to face trial. Vikas Dubey, who was accused in several crimes of murder including that of prominent figures – though arrested several times - escaped without adequate punishment and was walking around scot-free. It is known to every one that he could accomplish this because of his clout. And it defies easy comprehension that he was able to shoot and brutally kill eight policemen.
That was the reason why many raised the doubt whether the fake encounter was a result of police chiefs or those who controlled them fearing the unravelling of that mystery. What stands out in this context is the apex court's observation that this was a failure of an institution, and that the court "was appalled at his getting bail" and asked for a report on such bail orders. There have been at least 10 notorious encounter deaths during the last 20 years in the country whose mystery is yet to be uncovered: of Sadiq Jamal, whom Gujarat police shot to death on the accusation that he planned an attack on the then Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi; of Ishrat Jahan whom the Gujarat police killed on the charge that she worked as mercenary of Lashkar-e-Tayyiba to kill Modi in 2004; of Sohrabuddeen who again was killed by Gujarat police on the accusation that he was deputed by Lashkar-e-Tayyiba to kill Modi; the encounter death in 2008 at Batla House, New Delhi, involving alleged Indian Mujahideen terrorists; the case of 2016 in which eight alleged SIMI workers said to be escaping from jail, became victim of police's 'performance of duty' - all form part of this series. They are all instances of rulers and officials law and order jointly running their own penal machinery making a mockery of the justice system of the country.
It is not only that innocents are brutally murdered as a result of this incidents of atrocity, but also that the real culprits escape. This situation has to change if the independent justice system, envisioned by the constitution, has to continue to exist in its robust form.