Hyderabad: The Supreme Court-appointed inquiry commission probing the alleged 2019 encounter of four accused in the gang rape and murder of a Hyderabad veterinarian has concluded that they were “deliberately fired upon by police with an intent to cause their death”.
It has also recommended in its report — accessed by ThePrint — that at least 10 Hyderabad Police personnel, who were at the spot at the time of the ‘encounter’, should be put on trial for murder.
The three-member panel — comprising former Supreme Court judge V.S. Sirpurkar, former CBI chief D.R. Karthikeyan and former Bombay High Court judge R.P. Sondurbaldota — was appointed by the apex court in December 2019. It examined 54 witnesses, including 15 policemen, over a period of 47 days in phases.
The committee, which was also given an extension for the inquiry owing to Covid-19 restrictions, submitted its final report to the top court in February this year.
A bench led by Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana Friday transferred the proceedings of the case to the Telangana High Court, for it to take a call on further action based on the report.
The bench also rejected the Telangana government’s appeal to keep the commission report sealed, stating that it was a public inquiry.
The alleged encounter took place a week after a 27-year-old vet was allegedly gang-raped and murdered in Hyderabad on 28 November 2019. Four accused were caught on 29 November and the police got their judicial custody on 4 December.
On the morning of 6 December, Telangana Police shot dead all four accused — Mohammad Arif, Jollu Shiva, Jollu Naveen and Chennakesavulu — after the men allegedly tried to escape. They had been taken to an underpass on the Hyderabad-Bengaluru highway to reconstruct the crime scene.
Within a week of the ‘encounter’, the apex court had appointed the three-member inquiry commission.
What the report says
In the 387-page final report, the inquiry commission noted that all policemen involved in the alleged encounter acted with common intention to cause the death of the accused.
“In our considered opinion, the accused were deliberately fired upon with an intent to cause their death, and with the knowledge that the firing would invariably result in the death of the suspects,” the report stated.
It named 10 policemen — V. Surender, K. Narasimha Reddy, Shaik Lal Madhar, Mohammed Sirajuddin, Kocherla Ravi, K. Venkateshwarulu, S. Arvind Goud, D. Janakiram, R. Balu Rathod and D. Srikanth — recommending that they be tried for the offences under Section 302 (murder) of the IPC read with Section 34 (common intention).
“…Different acts committed by each of them were done in furtherance of common intention to kill the suspects,” the report read.
Referring to three of the policemen — Shaik Lal Madhar, Mohammed Sirajuddin and Kocherla Ravi — the report said they “cannot take shelter under Section 76 and exception 3 to Section 300 of IPC because their contention that they fired in good faith at the suspects has been disbelieved”.
While Section 76 of the IPC pertains to an “act done by a person bound, or by mistake of fact believing himself bound, by law”, Section 300 spells out cases in which culpable homicide amounts to murder.
Exception 3 to Section 300 of the IPC states that culpable homicide is not murder if the offender, “being a public servant or aiding a public servant acting for the advancement of public justice, exceeds the powers given to him by law, and causes death by doing an act which he, in good faith, believes to be lawful and necessary for the due discharge of his duty as such public servant and without ill-will towards the person whose death is caused”.
“Good faith, which is an essential prerequisite of Section 76 IPC and exception 3 to Section 300 IPC, is found to be clearly absent,” the report stated.
The commission also said that its probe had concluded that the deceased did not commit any offence in connection with the 6 December incident, like snatching weapons, attempting to escape from custody, and assaulting and firing at the police party.
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Police version ‘concocted, versions contradictory’
The report further said that the police’s entire version of the incident — from the time the accused were kept in a ‘safe house’ while under judicial custody, to when they were taken to the scene of crime for reconstruction — appears to have been “concocted”.
For instance, the commission pointed out how the claim of a pistol being snatched from one of the policemen, K. Venkateshwarulu, was contradicted by others.
While a few of the witnesses had once claimed that they had seen the pistol being snatched, in some instances, they contradicted their own statements by saying that they had only heard the pistol being snatched, the report said.
The policeman who claimed that his pistol was snatched had said that the weapon was removed from its pouch, which remained intact, attached to his belt, according to the report.
“The commission is unable to comprehend how this is possible because this would require the pouch to be opened and the pistol taken out, while the pouch was still hooked to the belt,” the report stated, adding that the policeman had claimed that his pouch was intact, but a piece of it was recovered hours after the alleged encounter.
“One can only wonder how many times the same pistol pouch is recovered multiple times from multiple places,” it further said.
‘Lapses in investigation’
The commission also pointed to “lapses” in the investigation and collection of evidence. “As per the record, the bodies were lying in the four corners of a trapezium, with deceased suspects Shiva and Naveen, who do not have any arms, in the front, and Arif and Chennakesavulu, with pistols, at the back.”
It added that the “artificiality of the narration” of the firing incident by witnesses is “best illustrated” by a question put by the tribunal to Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) V. Surender.
When asked if the “the other two, instead of running away, stood there waiting to be shot dead”, the ACP said: “I cannot say.” This, the report said, is “equally demonstrative of the helplessness of the witnesses to give a rational answer”.
The commission also pointed out that, according to a ballistics expert, “it was not possible for an untrained person to identify the safety switch” of the pistols being carried by the police personnel, and thereafter fire the weapon.
“It is also not conceivable that within a short span of time, as alleged by the police, the deceased suspects snatched the weapons, cocked the pistol and used it to fire,” the report said, adding that the accused did not have any experience with firearms.
The ‘throwing soil’ theory
The interim findings of the inquiry panel, which were reported on last November, had pointed out that there were several gaps in the policemen’s versions when they were cross-questioned. One of the things the policemen had claimed was that the accused threw soil in their eyes when they were taken to the site for crime reconstruction.
“All the photographs and videos show that the scene of the incident was a fallow land covered with lush green weeds and picking up soil from the ground is well-nigh impossible. A handful could have been collected only by scraping the ground with some effort, but nowhere enough to simultaneously throw in the eyes of 12 persons so as to incapacitate them and attack them,” the panel’s report said.
The commission also observed that three of the accused were minors, pointing out that their school records, bona fide certificates, and Aadhaar cards indicated so.
“Just as Mob Lynching (sic) is unacceptable, so is any idea of instant justice. At any point of time (sic), [the] Rule of Law must prevail. Punishment for [a] crime has to be only by the procedure established by law,” the report said.
The commission also said that the constitutional and statutory rights of the suspects were violated at the time of their arrest.
(Edited by Gitanjali Das)