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SC orders CBI to probe 95 Manipur encounter deaths

Source: | Saturday, July 15, 2017

NEW DELHI, Jul 15, 2017: Virtually dismantling the AFSPA immunity shield for Army personnel, the Supreme Court, in a landmark decision, ordered the CBI on Friday to probe 95 alleged fake encounter killings in Manipur that involve the Army, Assam Rifles, CRPF, BSF and police.

A bench of Justices Madan B Lokur and UU Lalit ordered CBI director Alok Verma to nominate a group of five officers to make up a special investigation team (SIT) which would go through records of all these cases, lodge fresh FIRs, complete the investigation by this December 31 and file chargesheets. It sought a compliance report from the CBI by the second week of next January.

"The entire ground work has already been done by the commissions of inquiry, a judicial inquiry, the Gauhati and Manipur HCs and the NHRC. We leave it to the SIT to utilise the material gathered. We expect Manipur and Union governments to render full assistance and cooperation to the SIT to enable it to complete investigations at the earliest," said Justice Lokur, who wrote the judgment for the bench.

The director of CBI will nominate the SIT and inform the court of its composition in two weeks.

The Army had claimed that making them liable for criminal prosecution for acting at the spur of the moment in dangerous situations in disturbed areas like Manipur, where various militant groups were operating and where armed forces personnel often face do-or-die situations, could make it virtually impossible to provide effective security and maintain integrity of India.

The Army had also pleaded that since most of the cases were very old and compensation had been paid to families of the victims, no purpose will be served by reopening investigations, especially after completion of inquiry by armed forces, and making the personnel face criminal prosecution.

The bench stoutly rejected this argument and said: "If a crime has been committed, a crime which involved death of a person who is possibly innocent, it cannot be overlooked only because of lapse of time. Merely because the state has not taken any action and has allowed time to go by, it cannot take advantage of the delay to scuttle an inquiry."

The Centre had argued that in encounter cases, there had always been local pressures leading to bias in inquiry against armed forces. The court rejected this argument too and said: "If there had been break down of the rule of law in Manipur, surely the Centre was under an obligation to take appropriate steps. To suggest that all inquiries were unfair and motivated is casting a very serious aspersions on the independence of authorities in Manipur at that point of time, which we do not think is at all warranted."

The SC said access to justice is a basic human rights, which enjoys a special place in India's constitutional scheme. "The history of public interest litigation over the years has settled that the deprived sections of the society and the downtrodden such as bonded labourers, trafficked women, homeless persons, victims of natural disasters and others can knock on the doors of our constitutional courts and pray for justice."

Referring to PILs filed by Extra Judicial Execution of Victim Families Association and Dr Suresh Singh, the bench said: "This is precisely what has happened in the present petitions where the next of the kin could not access justice even in the local courts and the petitioners have taken up their cause in public interest. Our constitutional scheme does not permit us (the court) to shut the door on such persons and our constitutional obligation requires us to give justice and succour to the next of the kin of the deceased."


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