New Delhi: A 19-year-old fake encounter case in Uttar Pradesh drew the attention of the Supreme Court last week, forcing it to pass an unusual order against the state government for using state machinery to “protect” its own policemen.
The apex court imposed a fine of Rs 7 lakh on the UP government, over its “laxity” in the case.
The order was on a petition filed in the ‘murder’ case of 18-year-old Pradeep Kumar, who was allegedly shot dead by eight UP policemen in what eye-witnesses described as a cold-blooded encounter on 3 August 2002.
Four of these policemen — Sanjeev Kumar (sub-inspector), Manoj Kumar (sub-inspector), Randheer Singh (retired deputy superintendent of police) and Jitendra Singh (constable) — have allegedly managed to stall the trial for close to two decades by evading court summons and warrants necessitating their presence in the chief judicial magistrate (CJM)’s court in Bulandshahr, among other “delay tactics”.
In this period, Kumar’s father, Yashpal Singh, filed eight petitions in the top court, and multiple applications before the Allahabad High Court and Bulandshahr’s CJM. Yet, trial in the case hasn’t begun.
“Normally, we are slow in entertaining petitions directly filed in this court, but in the extraordinary circumstances of this case, we have entertained this petition to ensure that justice be given to the petitioner, which has been denied to him for about two decades,” ordered a bench led by Justice Vineet Saran.
The bench noted that the “case speaks volumes of how state machinery is defending or protecting its own police officers”.
While two of the four were arrested last month, when the court issued notice on the petition, a third surrendered later. The fourth is still absconding, according to the petitioner’s lawyer.
Details of the case details
It has been a long and arduous journey for the victim’s father, Yashpal Singh, to reach even this stage.
According to the allegations in the case, Pradeep Kumar was stopped by the police while he was on his way to Delhi on business (for his father’s dairy). He was beaten up with sticks, and then shot on his head, with the bullet piercing through his body diagonally.
The police claimed Kumar got killed in a shootout while he was looting a state roadways bus. But, in December 2002, an enquiry report debunked this assertion, paving the way for a criminal case against the accused.
However, subsequently, the local police in May 2004 filed a closure report against the policemen, which the CJM Bulandshahr rejected in January 2005, and issued summons against the police officials.
How the officers managed to evade trial
The accused policemen followed a circuitous route to evade trial.
First, the eight accused did not appear on the ground that the Allahabad High Court had stayed the trial proceedings on a petition filed by two of them. The plea questioned the issuance of non-bailable warrants against them. This stay remained in force for 12 years.
However, even after the HC dismissed the petition and vacated the stay on 20 February 2017, only four of the eight accused surrendered in August 2018. According to court records accessed by ThePrint, despite the CJM’s directions, the UP Police didn’t arrest the other four accused policemen to produce them before the court.
This came even as the CJM recorded in each of his summoning orders that he was under directions of the Allahabad HC and the Supreme Court to conclude the trial in a time-bound manner.
An arrest warrant issued in April 2019, along with a direction to UP’s director-general of police, also proved futile.
Unable to secure their presence through the normal procedure, the exasperated CJM also went to the extent of directing the UP administration to stop salaries of the accused policemen.
Still, the four policemen remained at large. While the state complied with this order only in the case of three officials, the fourth continued receiving his salary and remained absconding.
Later, the CJM ordered holding back of dues of the absconding DSP, who retired in 2019. But this order too was flouted by the police department.
The “laxity” with which the state proceeded in the matter now forced the top court to intervene.
According to the father’s advocate, Divyesh Pratap Singh, two of the four accused policemen were arrested last month, only after the top court’s 1 September order, issuing notice on Singh’s petition. “One (the third officer) surrendered, while the fourth is still absconding,” he said.
‘Running from pillar to post for 19 years’
Speaking to ThePrint, Yashpal Singh said he learnt about his son’s alleged murder a day after he was killed. On being informed by his fellow villagers, Singh rushed to Philkanwari police station in Sikandrabad, where he was not allowed to even go near the body.
Singh alleged that the crime branch of the Criminal Investigation Department, which took over the probe on the suggestion of the enquiry committee, filed a closure report without giving him a copy. Rather, he alleged that the police forged his wife’s signature to show that the service was completed.
Singh, however, got to know about the move and immediately filed a protest petition against the closure report.
“I have been running from pillar to post for 19 years. I have knocked at every court’s doors against the accused who have adopted all delay tactics to make sure the trial does not commence,” he said.
Meanwhile, a case of arson and rioting was registered against Singh and his relatives, which, he alleged, was done to harass him. “There is no progress even in this case. Two persons named as accused in this case are already dead,” he said.
Between 2005 and 2007, the accused did not let the trial court proceed with the matter on the excuse that there was a stay on the hearing by the HC, Singh said. Instead, he claimed, the stay was only related to one accused, who had first challenged the non-bailable warrants.
When Singh raised the issue, one of the co-accused took up the matter before the HC, which in March 2007, put on hold the trial with regard to all the accused. Between 2007 and 2016, Singh approached the Supreme Court and the HC several times with a request to vacate the stay.
“I first went to the apex court because the HC had in April 2007 dismissed the first petition filed by the police officer against the non-bailable warrant. However, since the second petition was pending, the matter in the trial court did not proceed. I wanted a clarification from the top court whether the second petition should remain pending, considering the first one had been dismissed. But I was asked to go back to the HC and raise this plea,” Singh said.
He kept going back to the top court when the HC did not list his plea for a hearing. But every time, he was asked to approach the latter.
It was only in November 2016 that the top court issued directions to the HC, which dismissed the second police officer’s petition in February 2017.
“Despite the directions of the SC to conclude the trial in one year, the accused have delayed it by filing frivolous applications, leaving me with no option but to approach the top court again this year,” Singh said.
In response to Singh’s allegations, the UP government filed a short affidavit before the top court, promising action against the officers who allegedly shielded the accused cops.
Additional advocate general for UP, Garima Prasad, submitted that the state is taking every action in the matter and has also initiated an enquiry as to why steps were not taken at the appropriate stage.
(Edited by Amit Upadhyaya)