In a significant development, Advocate Vishal Tiwari, the petitioner behind the Public Interest Litigation (PIL) seeking an independent investigation into police encounter killings in Uttar Pradesh, has strongly contested the State’s position in a rejoinder filed with the Supreme Court. Tiwari criticized the celebration of encounter killings and questioned their legitimacy, raising concerns about arbitrary and unconstitutional actions by the state police.
Advocate Tiwari, in his rejoinder, asserted, “Encounter killings are often celebrated as achievements by state police officials, further encouraging arbitrary and unconstitutional actions. This is evident in the out-of-turn promotions and gallantry awards granted to officers involved in such killings.” He emphasized the need for the police, as a powerful force, to exercise restraint, especially when confronting weaker parties.
Tiwari argued against the State’s claim that these encounters were acts of self-defense, stating, “Police being a mighty force cannot always resort to the theory of self-defense, especially when the opposing party is a minor group with fewer weapons. If the police fire upon the victim when there is a chance to overpower them without killing, it is retaliation. When the State uses excessive or retaliatory force leading to death, it is referred to as an extra-judicial killing or an extrajudicial execution.”
The petitioner accused the State of withholding crucial information and intentionally misleading the Court. Despite the Court’s directive to respond to the petitioner’s concerns regarding 183 encounter incidents, Tiwari pointed out that the State’s report only addressed seven incidents, suggesting a lack of compliance with the court order from August 11, 2023.
Tiwari stated, “The respondents have deliberately not given any Status Report or reply to the 183 encounter killings. Many of these encounters might have been fake, and no proper compliance with the Guidelines laid down by this HonorableSupreme Court has been made.” He also highlighted the United Nations Human Rights Commission’s alarm over encounter killings in Uttar Pradesh in January 2019.
The petitioner further alleged that the State misinterpreted the Chauhan Commission report, claiming it gave a clean chit to the police in the Kanpur/Bikru encounter killings of 2020. However, he clarified that the Commission’s report had been prepared without any rebuttal against the police version, and its conclusion stated that there was no evidence to contradict the police account. Tiwari argued that this finding did not amount to a clean chit.
Concerns Raised About Atiq Ahmed’s Killings
Regarding the death of Atiq Ahmed, Tiwari raised two significant concerns. First, he pointed out that Atiq’s brother, Khalid Azim, had filed a petition seeking safety and protection for Ashraf, Atiq’s brother, during transit in police custody. Despite the High Court’s directions on March 21, 2023, the State’s present status report allegedly failed to address this crucial issue or explain the steps taken to protect Ashraf, suggesting that appropriate measures might have prevented the tragic incident.
Tiwari also expressed concerns about the independence of the Special Investigation Team (SIT) responsible for investigating the deaths of Atiq and Ashraf. He noted that the SIT lacked supervision by a judicial magistrate and highlighted a recurring pattern in encounter killings where police claimed to receive tips from informers, leading to lethal confrontations.
Additionally, the petitioner alleged that family members were not allowed to register First Information Reports (FIRs) against the police officials, preventing inquiries into the killings. Tiwari cited the Supreme Court’s position in Om Prakash and Ors. V. State of Jharkhand (2012) 12 SCC 72, which explicitly stated that encounter killings were unjustified and amounted to “state-sponsored terrorism.”
A bench led by Justice S. Ravindra Bhat is scheduled to hear the matter, including Tiwari’s PIL, and a petition filed by AtiqAhmed’s sister, Aisha Noori, who is seeking a court-monitored probe into the killings of her brothers in April 2023 while they were being taken for medical check-ups in police custody. The hearing promises to shed light on the controversial issue of police encounter killings in Uttar Pradesh and the alleged misconduct surrounding them.