The Supreme Court on Thursday ordered a judicial inquiry into last week’s police encounter in Telangana in which four rape suspects were killed, Live Law reported. The court observed that there were aspects of the state government’s version that needed an independent inquiry.

The inquiry will be headed by former Supreme Court judge VS Sirpurkar, and will also comprise former Bombay High Court judge Rekha Baldota and former Central Bureau of Investigation director DR Karthikeyan. The bench, headed by Chief Justice SA Bobde, gave the order after hearing two petitions seeking an independent inquiry into the encounter.

The inquiry will have to be completed in six months. The court also stayed proceedings by the Telangana High Court and National Human Rights Commission in the matter.

The state government justified the encounter, claiming that the accused snatched two firearms and shot at police personnel. The government said no policemen received bullet injuries but got injured in the attack by the accused.

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court had sought names of former judges who can conduct a judicial inquiry into the encounter deaths.

On Monday, the Telangana High Court had asked the state government to preserve the bodies of the four men till December 13. The High Court ordered the transfer of the bodies to Gandhi Hospital in Hyderabad in air-conditioned ambulances to prevent any decomposition. The attorney general was asked to produce documents on the registration of a first information report against the police for the deaths. The High Court will also take up the case on Thursday.

Police version of the encounter

The four men – Mohammed Areef, Jollu Shiva, Jollu Naveen and Chintakunta Chennakeshavulu – were arrested on November 29 for allegedly raping and killing a woman before burning her body. They were under judicial custody and lodged in high security cells in Cherlapally Central Prison.

The Telangana Police said the four accused were shot dead in the early hours of December 6, when they attempted to flee from custody. The accused attempted to break out while being taken to the murder site to reconstruct the sequence of events. They allegedly snatched a weapon and fired at the police, forcing the police to shoot back.

The National Human Rights Commission sent a team after the killings to conduct a spot inquiry and said the matter required a careful investigation. Human rights organisation Amnesty International India criticised the shooting, saying the incident set a “disturbing precedent of circumventing the legal system” and called for an independent inquiry.

Several people have cautioned against the dangers of “extra-judicial killings” while many politicians praised the Telangana Police and the government for “delivering justice”.