The Delhi High Court has upheld the conviction of seven policemen of Uttarakhand Police for killing a young man in a ‘fake’ encounter in 2009. The case pertained to killing of 22 year old MBA graduate Ranbir Singh in Dehradun on 03.07.2009. In the trial which was transferred to Delhi from Uttarakhand by the Supreme Court to ensure free and fair proceedings, the CBI Court convicted 17 policemen. The HC bench of Justice Dr.S. Muralidhar and Justice I.S Mehta however acquitted 10 policemen , while upholding conviction of remaining seven.
The case set-up by the police was that the deceased Ranbir Singh was member of a robbery gang. The police claimed that when a policeman tried to check Ranbir Singh and his two accomplices on suspicion, they attacked the policeman and snatched his service revolver. Ranbir Singh tried to fire at the policeman. On seeing the arrival of more policemen, Ranbir Singh and his accomplices escaped in a motorcycle with the service revolver. On a chase by police, they were spotted near Ladpur forest area at about 3 PM. Then Ranbir Singh opened fire at the police party and in the resultant encounter he got killed by police in self defence.
The Court noted that the account of the eyewitnesses regarding the scuffle between Ranbir Singh and policeman which occurred at about 12.45 PM did not tally with the police version. The police stated that there were three young men including Ranbir Singh in the gang which attacked the policeman. Though most of the eyewitnesses turned hostile and disowned the statement recorded by Magistrate under Section 164 Cr.P.C during investigation, they were consistent in stating that only two men were there involved in the scuffle. The Court heavily relied on the deposition of one Anjum Parvez Khan, who was examined as PW15. PW15 stated that he saw two men fighting with a policeman, and one of them had snatched the revolver from police. Then PW15 intervened in the scene by opening fire in the air with his licensed firearm. Thereupon, both the men tried to run away. But, one of them was apprehended then and there itself by police which had arrived in the meantime. The other man, who had the revolver, ran way.
The deposition of PW15 revealed that police had caught Ranbir Singh at the venue of scuffle. It also gave the indication that the man who had ran away with the revolver was not Ranbir Singh, but his cousin Ram Kumar. This Ram Kumar was also examined as PW10 in the case, who tried to support the police version. But Court did not find PW10 trustworthy as his deposition were marred with inconsistencies, and the Court felt that he was aiding the police version since he himself was the accused in the FIR registered in respect of the scuffle with policeman. Anyhow, the police version of three men escaping in motor cycle was not consistent with the eye witness account that one man was caught in the scene and the other ran away with revolver. Finding PW15 to be credible, the Court observed as follows :
PW15 had no reason at that stage to falsely implicate anyone and more importantly, speak in favour of the deceased or anyone else. He was, after all, a well-meaning citizen who felt strongly about a policeman being attacked in public by two young boys in a manner that would bring the police force to disrepute and adversely affect their morale. He strongly felt it was his duty as a citizen to protect the police. Such a person had no need whatsoever to speak falsehood. It is admirable that he stood his ground and spoke the truth till the end. In fact, this entire case would have come apart had PW15 not been firm and unwavering in spite of so many other witnesses having turned hostile. One such reliable witness is sufficient since he inspires confidence as a truthful witness.(para 102)
Facts establishing that Ranbir Singh was caught immediately
The fact that police raided Jain Dharamshala, the lodge where Ranbir Singh and his cousin had rented out a room, at about 1.30 pm, immediately after the incident of scuffle, made the Court infer that Ranbir Singh was apprehended at the scene itself. Otherwise, it would not have been possible for the police to know about the place where Ranbir Singh was staying. The attempt of the accused to show that the raid happened on a different date was failed by the consistent testimonies of other witnesses.
None of the counsel for the accused is able to afford any rational explanation for this(raid at Jain Dharmashala). In fact, this evidence is a total give-away of the entire case of the defence. They set up a false defence about the deceased not being apprehended at the spot and not being taken away by the police. They are not able to explain as to how so many policemen reached Jain Dharamshala within half an hour of the scuffle. What were they doing at Jain Dharamshala if they were not looking for evidence regarding the deceased and his associates?- the Court observed at para.109.
Also, there were entries in GD and City Control Room(CCR) to the effect that one of the men involved in the scuffle was caught around 1 PM. However, the accused policemen tried to project a version that another person, one Karunesh, who was spotted carrying a revolver, was arrested mistaking him to be Ranbir Singh, and later it was known that Karunesh himself was a shadow police. According to accused, the entries pertained to the mistaken arrest of Karunesh. But the Court noted that Karunesh was not examined as a witness. Also, other evidence on record suggested that Karunesh was given a rifle, instead of a revolver, rendering the police version that Karunesh was spotted with a revolver unbelievable.
Thirty rounds of fire were made at Ranbir Singh. The evidence on record suggested that the firing was made from a close range. The lie of the dead body, and the nature of fire injuries made it appear that firing did not happen in self defence. The FIR registered in respect of the encounter killing had mentioned the name of seven accused policemen, and hence their presence in the scene of crime was admitted on record. However, the Court could not find cogent evidence regarding the presence of other seven policemen, and hence they were given benefit of doubt. Also, two among the policemen convicted by trial court were drivers, and Court held that it could not be stated that they were privy to the conspiracy hatched by superior officers. One policeman, who was convicted by trial court for tampering of CCR records, was also acquitted. Thus, 10 policemen were given benefit of doubt, while 7 were found guilty.
The Court observed that ‘fake encounters’ presented a grim scenario, which has no place in a legal system governed by rule of law. It also took specific note of the fact that several witnesses turned hostile, despite their statements being recorded under Section 164. This is yet another case that underscores the urgent need for a robust scheme of protection to witnesses and victims. Although the Law Commission of India gave its recommendations in that regard more than a decade ago, little has been done to implement them, it observed.