2021 Police Firing: Jharkhand High Court Directs Fresh Probe Into Tribal's Death, Orders ₹5 Lakh Compensation To Widow

Bhavya Singh

22 Aug 2023 5:08 AM GMT

  • 2021 Police Firing: Jharkhand High Court Directs Fresh Probe Into Tribals Death, Orders ₹5 Lakh Compensation To Widow

    The Jharkhand High Court has directed the state police to re-investigate the matter of Brahmadev Singh’s killing, who was allegedly killed by security forces in Latehar district on the suspicion of being a Maoist in June, 2021. Apart from this, the court also directed to pay Rs 5 lakh as compensation to Singh’s family.The above order came from the bench of Justice Sanjay Kumar Dwivedi...

    The Jharkhand High Court has directed the state police to re-investigate the matter of Brahmadev Singh’s killing, who was allegedly killed by security forces in Latehar district on the suspicion of being a Maoist in June, 2021. Apart from this, the court also directed to pay Rs 5 lakh as compensation to Singh’s family.

    The above order came from the bench of Justice Sanjay Kumar Dwivedi while hearing a petition filed by Singh’s widow, Jiramani Devi, who had demanded a CBI probe into the matter.

    Justice Dwivedi observed, “The closure report is...in the mind, a clear hasty action leaving much to be desired regarding the nature of investigation, because if a detailed investigation had already been done as is sought to be now suggested, there is no reason why a final report could not have been filed by the investigating agency in the normal course of events and needed an order to do so by the High Court and the court further finds that the closure report, therefore, lacks bona fide and in the interest of justice, the court comes to the conclusion that the case is required to de novo investigation to be done to maintain the confidence of the police upon the society and to suggest that the Rule of Law is meant for everybody, whoever he may be.”

    Petitioner's counsel had presented the following account:

    On June 12, 2021, during the early hours (around 8 o'clock), a group of approximately 10-11 tribal men from Piri Village gathered near the residence of Rajeshwar Singh. They were preparing for a hunting expedition in observance of 'Nem Sarhul', an annual tribal celebration in the State of Jharkhand.

    The practice involved hunting small animals such as rabbits and boars from the nearby forest to serve their guests. The hunters used 'bhartua guns', locally crafted firearms loaded with gunpowder for a single shot. These guns were traditionally employed to hunt small animals and scare away crop-damaging creatures.

    On that same day, one of the groups, consisting of six individuals, including Bramhadev Singh (the deceased husband of the petitioner), moved around 50 feet into the forest. Unexpectedly, security personnel from the opposite side began firing without any prior warning. Some of the individuals took cover behind a mahua tree, while others, including Bramhadev and Dinatha, raised their hands, placing their guns on the ground. They identified themselves as innocent villagers and pleaded not to be shot. Bramhadev even removed his shirt and pants, attempting to show he was an innocent villager. Despite these efforts, the firing persisted.

    First, Dinanath Singh was hit in the hand by a bullet, followed by Bramhadev Singh, who fell to the ground upon being shot. Witnessing the tragedy, the remaining individuals fled from the scene. Bramhadev's aunt, Panpatiya Devi, who arrived at the scene to check on him, was met with verbal abuse and chased away by the security forces.

    The villagers observed the security personnel carry Bramhadev across the river, where he appeared to be alive due to trembling hands and feet. However, he was shot again after being placed on the ground, and his clothes were changed. Images of Bramhadev in different attire were later circulated in newspapers, suggesting a cover-up by the security forces.

    The petitioner's counsel further shared that an offer of Rs. 30,000 to Rs. 35,000 in cash and a job was made to the petitioner and the deceased's elder brother by local police as an attempt to reconcile. The police admitted their mistake and requested forgiveness. However, upon the petitioner's refusal to compromise, false charges were brought against six villagers, leading to the initiation of Garu Police Station Case No. 24 of 2021 on June 13, 2021.

    Despite complaints made by the petitioner against the police officials and subsequent judicial directions, an FIR was not registered for months. The petitioner then approached the Chief Judicial Magistrate, Latehar, resulting in an order to register the case under Section 156(3) of the Criminal Procedure Code. However, even this directive was not promptly acted upon by the police.

    In a hearing on January 13, 2022, the court ordered the respondents to file a counter affidavit, acknowledging the incident and expressing concerns about the lack of fair investigation. Subsequently, by May 12, 2022, the court directed the registration of FIR Garu Police Station Case No. 11 of 2022 against the named police officials. The case was transferred to the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) for investigation.

    A progress report was requested by the Court on July 4, 2023. The supplementary counter affidavit revealed that Bramhadev Singh had died due to a police bullet. However, the case was closed citing a lack of evidence in both Garu Police Station Case No. 11 of 2022 and Garu Police Station Case No. 24 of 2021. The petitioner sought suitable compensation based on this revelation.

    The petitioner's counsel argued that despite the registration of the case against the implicated police personnel, the subsequent closure due to a lack of evidence indicated a staged encounter leading to Bramhadev Singh's death. The counsel urged the court to transfer the case to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and provide appropriate compensation to the petitioner.

    Referring to Annexure-D, the court unequivocally stated that it was an established fact that Bramhadeo Singh's demise resulted from a gunshot wound inflicted by the police. The FIR against the culpable police officers had already been lodged, and the case had been closed with the reasoning of factual errors. Given the undisputed facts, the court contended that at least Section 304 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) was applicable. Nevertheless, it was perplexing that the CID (Criminal Investigation Department) had been tasked with exonerating the accused police officials.

    The court said, “In view of the above backgrounds, the court has to ensure that accused persons are punished and that might or authority of the State are not used to shield themselves or their men. It should be ensured that they do not wield such powers, which under the Constitution has to be held only in trust for the public and society at large. If deficiency in investigation or prosecution is visible or can be perceived by lifting the veil trying to hide the realities or covering the obvious deficiencies, courts have to deal with the same with an iron hand appropriately within the framework of law.”

    The Court further said, “It is as much the duty of the prosecutor as of the court to ensure that full and material facts are brought on record so that there might not be miscarriage of justice. The victim cannot be afforded to be treated as an alien or total stranger to the criminal trial and further not only fair trial but fair investigation is also part of constitutional rights guaranteed under Articles 20 and 21 of the Constitution of India.”

    “Therefore, investigation must be fair, transparent and judicious as it is the minimum requirement of rule of law. The investigating agency cannot be permitted to conduct an investigation in a tainted and biased manner. Where non-interference of the court would ultimately result in failure of justice, the court must interfere. In such a situation, it may be in the interest of justice that independent agency chosen by the High Court makes a fresh investigation,” the court added.

    Citing several judgments from the Supreme Court with analogous scenarios, the court affirmed that a citizen, who serves as the de facto complainant in a criminal case alleging serious offenses by high-ranking government officials or influential individuals, must not be granted a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) investigation at their mere request. This exceptional power should be employed sparingly, with caution, and reserved for extraordinary circumstances where it is imperative to bolster investigative credibility and public trust, especially when the incident bears national or international significance or when it's essential for upholding fundamental rights.

    The court emphasized that if a Constitutional Court determines that an investigation was conducted perfunctorily and as a mere facade, it is incumbent upon the Constitutional Court to intervene and issue appropriate directives.

    In the present case, the court noted that the CID itself admitted, as per Annexure-D, that the victim's death had been caused by police gunfire. The court highlighted that only after the intervention of this court had the Chief Judicial Magistrate's order under Section 156(3) of the Criminal Procedure Code been adhered to by the State, resulting in the case's registration.

    The court found the abrupt closure report lacking in sincerity, leaving ample room for concerns about the nature of the investigation. If a thorough investigation had truly been conducted, as now suggested, there should have been no impediment to submitting a final report through the regular course. This lack of genuine intent led the court to the conclusion that a fresh investigation was necessary to restore societal faith in the police and the rule of law.

    ‘Accordingly, this court set aside the closure report, arising out of Garu P.S. Case No. 11 of 2022 considering that in Annexure-D to the supplementary counter affidavit, it has been admitted that the death of the deceased has occurred due to police firing. The fresh team of Investigators shall be constituted under a senior police official by the Director General of Police and Secretary, Home Department, Government of Jharkhand consisting of efficient personnel, well conversant with use of modern investigation technology also. No officer, who was part of the investigation team leading to the closure report shall be the part of the team conducted de novo investigation,” the Court directed.

    The court further directed that “Much time has already been lapsed and seeing the urgency in the matter, the Court directs that such fresh investigation must be concluded within a maximum period of three months from today and the police report be filed before the court concerned, thereafter the matter shall proceed in accordance with law.”

    The court further observed that the court observed that the State of Jharkhand had an existing policy for compensating individuals affected by police atrocities and deaths in police custody.

    “In view of the above facts, reasons, discussions and analysis and also considering Annexure-D to the supplementary counter affidavit, wherein, it has been admitted that the death of the husband of the petitioner has occurred due to police firing, the respondents-State shall pay a sum of Rs. 5,00,000/- (rupees five lakhs) in favour of the petitioner within four weeks from the date of receipt / production of this order and this shall be implemented through the Home Secretary, Government of Jharkhand, Ranchi within the aforesaid period,” the Court said while allowing and disposing of the petition.

    Case Title: Jiramani Devi vs. State of Jharkhand 

    Case Citation: 2023 LiveLaw (Jha) 29

    Case No.: W.P.(Cr.) No. 402 of 2021

    For the Petitioner : Mr. Shailesh Poddar, Advocate

    For the State : Mr. Manoj Kumar, G.A.-III

    For the Resp. No. 3 (UOI): Mr. Prashant Vidyarthi, Advocate

    Click Here to Read/Download Order

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