The Supreme Court has allowed the Application filed by the Inquiry Commission, in the plea seeking for investigation into the alleged encounter of four accused persons on 6th December, 2019 in Hyderabad, praying for an extension of 6 months for submission of final report.
A Bench headed by Chief Justice of India SA Bobde heard submissions of Advocate K. Parmeshwar, appearing on behalf of the Commission, and granted the extension of 6 months. The Bench also heard Advocate Pradeep Yadav, who apprised the Court of the recent incident of custodial torture in Tamil Nadu wherein a father-son duo were tortured to death in police custody, and sought for a fixed timeline and guidelines in order to prevent such encounters. The CJI, however, did not agree with the submission. "How can we ensure no deaths in custody? There are some who die of natural causes. We cannot grant relief like this and say that there should be no crime. As a lawyer, you have higher responsibility and need to make some reasonable arguments." Accordingly, the Bench granted the six months' extension to the Inquiry Commission to complete the probe and file its final report. Filed by Advocate K. Parameshwar, the instant Application submits that the circumstances that have arisen due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdown, have "hindered the sittings of the Inquiry Commission as the three members of the Commission reside in different cities and the place of inquiry is in a wholly different city as well". The Application, however, goes on to state that the Inquiry Commission's work was not completely halted by the pandemic as collection of records and documents, as well as statements of persons acquainted with the incident went on, despite the situation. On 12 December, 2019, the Supreme Court had directed for the constitution of an Inquiry Commission to investigate the circumstances which led to the alleged encounter of four accused persons in Hyderabad on 6th December, 2019. The four accused persons had been in custody of the police in connection with the rape and murder of a young veterinary doctor. The Commission is headed by former Supreme Court Judge, Justice VS Sirpurkar, and comprises of former Judge of the Bombay High Court, Justice RP Sondurbaldota and former Director of Central Bureau of Investigation, DR Kaarthikeyan. A period of 6 months had been granted to the Commission for completion of inquiry, from the date of its first sitting. Accordingly, the Telangana High Court had given permission for accommodation of the Inquiry Commission, and the Government of Telangana had issued sanction for the creation of 19 temporary posts for a period of six months, to aid with the functioning of the Commission. The Terms of Reference of the Inquiry Commission were, thereafter, framed by the Supreme Court on 10th January, 2020, and directed for an inquiry into the "circumstances that led to the death of the aforementioned four persons and to ascertain as to whether any offence appears to have been committed in the course. If yes, to fix the responsibility of erring officials". Post this, the first sitting of the Inquiry Commission was held on 3rd February, and a public notice was published, inviting persons acquainted with the matter of inquiry, to come forward and furnish information to the Commission. The Application states that, in pursuance of the public notice, 1365 Affidavits were filed by various persons, and almost all were in Telegu, therefore, requiring translation into English. It is further submitted that relevant records from the NHRC Investigation team, SIT Investigation team have been collected as well as post-mortem reports. However, the Application submits, due to the declaration of the national lockdown in wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, work of the Inquiry Commission has been halted as they have been constrained to suspend sittings. The possibility of conducting online hearings and sittings were explored, but the same was abandoned by the Commission due to difficulties arising from security and confidentiality. "Moreover, the inquiry requires physical inspection of the scene of incident and other related locations, which is also not possible in a virtual hearing. Conducting inquiry, without physical hearings, spot inspections and so on, does not appear feasible". In light of the above circumstances, the Application prays for an extension of six months for submission of final report from the date the Commission is able to resume investigation. It further prays for directions to the Government of Telangana to issue appropriate orders to enable the continued functioning of the Inquiry Commission.