Feature: Commission in Disha Encounter Case says cops’ version ‘concocted’, wants murder charges against 10 officers

The Wire Staff

New Delhi: The Commission of Inquiry constituted by the Supreme Court to probe the “encounter” killing of the four suspects arrested after the 2019 rape and murder of a veterinary doctor in Telangana has recommended that the 10 police officers involved in the killing be “tried for the offences under Section 302 (murder)” as “the different acts committed by each of them were done in furtherance of common intention to kill the deceased suspects.”

The panel, chaired by Justice V.S. Sirpurkar, and comprising Justice Rekha P. Sondur Baldota and Dr. D.R. Kaarthikeyan as members, held that “the accused were deliberately fired upon with an intent to cause their death and with the knowledge that the firing would invariably result in the death of the deceased suspect.”

The panel also found that police have deliberately attempted to suppress the fact that at least three of the deceased were minors – two of them 15 years old.

After reviewing the evidence and arguments put forward to it by the policemen involved – who claimed the suspects had been killed in retaliatory firing – the commission concluded:

“…it cannot be said that the police party fired in self-defence or in a bid to re-arrest the deceased suspects. The record shows that entire version of the police party beginning from the safe house to the incident at Chatanpally is concocted. It was impossible for the deceased suspects to have snatched the weapons of the police and they could not have operated the fire arms. Therefore, the entire version is unbelievable.”

The rape and murder of the woman – called ‘Disha’ by the media to protect her identity – evoked a strong response in Hyderabad at the time and news of the killing of the suspects was hailed by politicians across the spectrum despite the police version appearing highly improbable.

Disha left her home for a clinic in Gachibowli on the evening of November 27, 2019. After parking her two-wheeler near a toll plaza, she had taken a cab to the clinic. At 9.22 pm, she called her younger sister to say the rear tyre of her motorcycle was punctured and that she was offered – and had accepted – help by some truck workers.

However, she sounded worried and had expressed fear at being alone amid men who looked suspicious. Her sister advised her to walk to the toll plaza and wait there, but she hesitated to go there. After about six minutes, the call was cut. Disha’s phone was then switched off.

The young woman’s burnt body was subsequently recovered on November 28 morning from an underpass on National Highway 44 near Chatanpally village under Shadnagar police station.

A day later, Commissioner of Cyberabad police announced that four persons – Mohammed Arif, Jollu Shiva, Jollu Naveen and Chintakunta Chennakesavulu – had been arrested in connection with the rape and murder of the woman.

A week later

On December 6, the police disclosed that it had killed all four suspects after they allegedly attacked the police party which had taken them to Chatanpally to aide with investigation. The police claimed that the suspects had snatched their firearms and opened fire on the accompanying officers, who then killed them in retaliatory fire.

At least three of the four victims killed were minors.

Several petitions were filed in the Supreme Court and the high court of Telangana against the deaths. Subsequently on December 12, the apex court constituted a commission and made clear that no other court or authority shall inquire into the matter pending before this panel.

Upon going through the material on record, the affidavits that had been filed, and various documents and statements of various officers and witnesses, the Commission of Inquiry found many loopholes in the police version of events that led to the killing of the four suspects.

 ‘Non-recovery of bullets casts doubt on version of firing’

The panel said: “It is the case of the police that the deceased suspects fired towards the police who were taking cover of the bund. The evidence of the police party is that none of the bullets hit them because of the bund. Some bullets might have hit the bund and lodged there. If the police were firing towards the tree line, some bullets might have hit the trees or the intervening bunds, but no bullets were recovered. It is very curious that that no bullets were found at the scene of occurrence nor were all cartridges recovered…”

The Commission also held: “The record shows that the entire scene of the alleged firing was not secured” and noted that “the non-recovery of the bullets also casts doubt on the version of firing.”

Police version is ‘concocted’ and ‘unbelievable’

Further, the panel while citing the inquest reports and depositions, held: “It cannot be said that the police party fired in self defence or in a bid to re-arrest the deceased suspects. The record shows that entire version of the police party beginning from the safe house to the incident at Chatanpally is concocted. It was impossible for the deceased suspects to have snatched the weapons of the police and they could not have operated the fire arms. Therefore, the entire version is unbelievable.”

The Commission also recorded that there was the “usual malady of delay in sending FIR to the Court in this case also”.

It added that “the unexplained delay in sending the FIR to the court would only establish that the complaint was not received by the SHO [station house officer] at 8 am, and it should be concluded that the delay has occurred only for confabulations and deliberations, which in turn affects the veracity of the case put forth by the State.”

 ‘Evidence withheld from Commission’

The apex court-appointed panel also said that “there is a grave suspicion that the best evidence in respect of CCTV footages, video recording of inquest and crime scene, etc. has been withheld from the Commission.”

Stating that “the CCTV footage shows that there is very effective network of CCTV cameras in the State of Telangana even in rural areas and especially along the highway”, the Commission said it was claimed in the press conference held after the arrest of the deceased suspects that scientific evidence played a crucial role in the detection of the crime and apprehension of the offenders.

It added that the Investigating Officer, J. Surender Reddy, stated that he had not collected any footage of CCTV either from Shadnagar Police Station or the Ravi Guest House – where the suspects were taken on the way to the scene of crime – or from the Ravi Guest House to the crime scene.

The panel said some of the video footages of the scene of incident produced before it were “not in seriatim [or regular order] and are very short clippings that appear to be sourced from a primary footage.”

“There is no explanation by the State as to why the entire footage is not placed before the Commission,” it notes, damningly.

 ‘Facts on juvenility deliberately suppressed’

The commission has made important observations on the matter of claims made by the relatives of the four deceased that they were minors at the time of their death.

The Aadhaar cards of three of the deceased record only their year of birth as 2001 and no exact date of birth. “The Commission takes note of various judicial decisions which have held that Aadhaar card cannot be proof of date of birth,” the report says, but notes that the families of at least two of the deceased did not make any attempts to withhold the Aadhaar details from police.

When it thus comes to admission registers, the panel notes that two of the deceased were born in 2004 and one, in 2002. Thus it finds:

“Therefore, at the relevant point of time it appears that the aforesaid three deceased suspects were minors, being of the age 17 years, 15 years and 15 years respectively.”

The panel found that police, “from the physical appearance of at least two of the deceased, did have doubts about their age.”

It details how police also visited the school where two of the deceased had studied, took photographs of the relevant school registers and “thus had knowledge of the dates of birth of the two.”

The panel also said that it did not have reason to disbelieve headmasters’ accounts testifying to the ages of at least two of the deceased.

The two headmasters questioned “not only identified the relevant entries pertaining to the deceased but also have deposed that they personally knew the family of the deceased persons.”

However, the “entire investigation record is silent over this,” the panel found. It concluded that the only logical inference is

that the “facts on juvenility have been deliberately suppressed.”

‘Deceased suspects had not committed any offence on December 6’

Upon considering the entire material on record, the Commission stated that “the deceased have not committed any offence in connection with the incident on 06.12.2019, like snatching the weapons, attempt to escape from the custody, assaulting and firing at the police party.”

It also “disbelieved the second confession, the alleged recovery at the 5th bund, the assault by the deceased suspects on the police officers, the alleged snatching of weapons and subsequent firing of 9MM pistols by the deceased suspects”.

It said, “There did not arise any occasion for exercising the right of private defence” by police, and that consequently there was no question of invocation of Section 96 IPC (right of private defence), Section 97 IPC (right of private defence of body and of property), Section 100 IPC (assault with the intention of wrongfully confining a person) and Exception 3 to Section 300 IPC (murder) read with Section 6 IPC (which covers general exceptions).

‘Cops acted with common intention to cause deaths’

The Commission said it has “disbelieved the alleged recovery, that the deceased suspects assaulted the policemen and attempted to escape” and thus held that “the actions of the police officers in deliberately firing at the deceased suspects, is not justified”.

It said, “Each one of them [accused police officers] were responsible for the safe keeping of the four deceased suspects. If either by acts or omissions they failed to fulfil their responsibility, then their common intention to cause the deaths of the deceased suspects is established. Their conduct subsequent to the deaths of the deceased suspects in falsifying the record would indicate that not only did they act in furtherance of common intention to give false information in order to screen the offenders but also that, they all acted with the common intention to cause the deaths of the four deceased suspects.”

‘Mockery of rule of law and justice’

Vrinda Grover, who is counsel for the group of activists who approached Telangana high court and later the Supreme Court, and appeared before the Commission on their behalf, said that the Commission’s report “is categorical, supported by cogent evidence and rooted in legal reasoning.”

“Despite opposition from the state of Telangana, the Supreme Court directed that the Commission of Inquiry’s report should be made available to the parties as the matter was of public importance,” she said.

Grover said that the findings of the Commission have “confirmed the apprehension that in the name of safety for women and using the alibi of strict action in cases of crimes against women, the police has only furthered lawlessness by killing four persons who were among the most marginalised in society, making a mockery of rule of law and justice.”

“Every action, especially by State agents, which departs from the rule of law, in turn creates a society which is more prone to violence and is unsafe for women. Women victims of sexual crimes have a legitimate expectation that the perpetrators of the offences against women would be punished in accordance with law, and fake encounters committed by powerful police officers do not provide any relief or assurance. In fact, such heinous crimes committed by the police only further the victimhood of women, as the real perpetrators of the offence do not ever face the criminal justice system,” she said.

It is important that the report of the Commission will act as the initiation of rigorous criminal investigation and prosecution against the police officers involved in the fake encounter, and also take to task all such senior police officers who enable the commission of such cold blooded murders and provide institutional support for the same, Grover added. Courtesy The Wire