The Gauhati High Court on Friday asked the Assam government to file an updated investigation report within six weeks on every case of the state police shooting those accused of crimes since May 2021.
A division bench of Chief Justice RM Chhaya and Justice Soumitra Saikia was hearing a public interest litigation filed by a Delhi-based lawyer Arif Jwadder.
In December, Jwadder sought an independent investigation into the rise in police shootings in Assam. He moved the court to know if any such investigation into these cases was being carried out or had been completed by an independent agency such as the Central Bureau of Investigation, the Special Investigation Team or any police team from other states.
According to Jwadder, the persons who died or were injured due to police action were not militants. “It cannot be the case that all the accused could snatch a service revolver from a trained police officer,” the petitioner’s statement said.
Besides the Assam government, the director general of police, the state law and justice department, the National Human Rights Commission and the Assam Human Rights Commission have been named as respondents in the petition.
On Friday, civil rights lawyer Prashant Bhushan, representing Jwadder, appeared for the case hearing virtually from Delhi, PTI reported.
Bhushan argued that the state police have not followed the directions issued by the Supreme Court in the People’s Union for Civil Liberties versus the state of Maharashtra order of 2014.
“No enquiry was instituted in cases where the accused was injured, and the probes into the incidents which led to deaths were not conducted as per the apex court guidelines,” Jwadder said, PTI reported.
After hearing the submissions, the Gauhati High Court asked the state government to submit whether the guidelines issued by the Supreme Court to conduct investigation into every police shooting have been followed.
The court posted the matter for hearing next on September 29.
What the state told the HC
In an affidavit submitted on June 21, the Assam government told the Gauhati High Court that the state police have killed 51 persons since May last year, when the Bharatiya Janata Party came to power.
“As per records, there have been 51 numbers of death and 139 numbers of injuries caused due to police action or during police custody since May 2021 till May 31, 2022,” the government’s affidavit said. “These incidents pertain to 31 numbers of districts of the state.”
Jwadder, however, in his petition cited media reports to claim that over 80 such incidents have taken place from May 2021 till December that same year. He added that 28 people were killed and 48 were injured in “fake encounters” in this period.
“All the victims were unarmed and handcuffed at the time of encounter,” Jwadder claimed in his petition.
What the Centre told the Lok Sabha
There are varying reports on the number of deaths due to police shootings in Assam. In December, Scroll.in had examined police records and found that 20 of the killed persons belonged to the state’s ethnic and religious minorities.
On Tuesday, the data shared by Union Minister of State for Home Affairs Nityanand Rai on police shootings in Assam showed an increase in such incidents.
While four people died in the state in 2020-’21, the number went up to 18 in 2021-’22, according to the government data.
Meanwhile, the Assam government has openly backed police shootings. In March, Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said that the police’s tough stand against criminals was working.