Govt must come clean on encounters

Reports of two recent encounter killings in Assam have attracted special attention because of the number of security forces involved in them, the way they were executed and how the information about them came into the public domain. It was claimed that two Bodo militants were killed in an encounter on March 29 in Chirang district in a joint operation undertaken by the army, the CRPF and the state police. It was thought to be a major operation because so many security forces were involved. But now the official claims have come unstuck with a senior CRPF officer coming out against them. A CRPF IG, Rajnish Rai, has said in a report that the information given out about the encoun­ter is wrong and the FIR filed by the joint forces gave a “fictitious account” of the incident to “conceal pre-planned murders of two persons in custody and present it as some brave act of professional achievement.”

It is now known that the two persons were picked up from their houses and taken to the place where they were shot. Weapons were planted on them. The IG says that he would not be so concerned if the act was “committed by a few deviant officers.” He says it indicates a “deeper institutional malady since multiple security agencies were involved.” He is right because staged encounter killings are no longer stray and isolated acts by rogue officers have become a method planned and frequently employed by security forces to deal with suspects or even innocent people. They are sometimes executed by security personnel to win hono­urs and awards. That shows the disregard for human and professional values and deterioration of stand­ards in the forces. The IG has called for “urgent systemic reforms.”

Fake encounter killings, which are actually extra-judicial murders, are common in all parts of the country. They are resorted to with greater impunity in states where the security forces have special powers like those derived from the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act. Such summary punishment is unacceptable in a society which follows the rule of law. In 2013, a Supreme Court-appointed commission under Justice Santosh Hegde to probe six encounter killings in Manipur had found that they were cold-blooded murders of innocent people. But governments cover up such acts and support the errant security personnel. One positive aspect of the Assam incident is that the disclosure has come from a senior officer of the forces and not from others. Those guilty of the killings should not be allowed to escape.

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