Similar words and patterns can be seen in the police’s description of the circumstances surrounding several encounter deaths in Uttar Pradesh since March 2017, an analysis of 20 First Information Reports by The Indian Express showed.
The state police has controversially gunned down 63 alleged criminals and injured 584 in 2,351 shootouts since the Bharatiya Janata Party government came to power, until August 4. Only four police officers were killed and 415 were injured in these encounters. The National Human Rights Commission and the Supreme Court issued notices to the state government earlier this year.
The analysis by The Indian Express, published on Tuesday, covered 41 of the 63 encounter deaths. The newspaper studied FIRs for 20 of them – families of the deceased were either untraceable or were not given the FIRs in the other 21 cases.
Months after coming to power, Chief Minister Adityanath had said: “We will make life difficult for criminals. They will have only two places to go: either they will be sent to jail, or they will be killed in police encounters.” The NHRC had sent a notice to the state government after the statement.
Patterns in the FIRs
Similar words were used in most of the 20 FIRs, which were related to 21 deaths. Twelve said police had been “tipped off by informers”, that the criminals “arrived on motorcycles”, which “skidded” or “fell”, or they “opened fire”. Police claimed in 11 reports to have acted “the way they had been taught or trained”, while 18 noted that police had shown “indomitable courage” – the same phrase in Hindi was used in these FIRs.
Sixteen of the 20 FIRs said that the police had acted “without caring for [their] lives”. Police claimed in eight FIRs that their response during and after the encounter complied with the orders and guidelines of the Supreme Court and the NHRC “to the full”.
In 12 reports, police claimed to have unsuccessfully looked for witnesses – they could not find any because of “night or odd hours” or as “people were scared”. Almost all FIRs said the encounter took place at night or early morning. Police claimed in several reports that they had carried out “minimal firing, for self-defence”.
The Indian Express accessed autopsy reports in 16 of the 41 cases. Three of the victims were shot in the head and eight in the chest, while most were shot multiple times. In several cases, the FIRs or the autopsy reports had not been shared with the courts.
State police chief Om Prakash Singh denied any “set pattern” in the FIRs. “FIRs are lodged according to the situation at the spot,” he told The Indian Express.
Ajay Pal Sharma, the senior superintendent of police of Gautam Budh Nagar district, said: “There are few things that can be found definitely common in all FIRs. We mention details of what happened on the spot. Since police are facing bullets and not [backing out] after assailants opened fire, we mention bravery in the FIR.”
Six alleged criminals were killed in five encounters under Sharma when he was the superintendent of police in Shamli earlier. Two persons were killed in encounters in Gautam Budh Nagar after he was promoted and transferred there.
He told the newspaper that police officers “work hard to save lives of criminals who open fire on us”. On the lack of witnesses, he said: “When no one is ready to be witness, we mention that accordingly.”