Yogi’s encounter policy gives police a license to kill

The much-publicized encounter policy of the Yogi Adityanath in Uttar Pradesh has come under attack from human right groups and opposition parties who have accused the chief minister of giving free hand to police to kill people to get out-of-turn promotion and settle scores with the people in the garb of controlling higher crime rate in the state.

While taking suo-moto cognizance of media reports on the encounters being carried out by the state police, National Human Rights Commission, a central government-backed body has observed it seems that the police personnel in the State of Uttar Pradesh are feeling free to misuse their power in the light of an undeclared endorsement given by the higher ups.

“They are using their privileges to settle scores with the people. The police force is to protect people; these kinds of incidents would send a wrong message to the society. Creating an atmosphere of fear is not the correct way to deal with the crime,” the Commission said.

State police defended extra Judicial killings saying it has been successful in smoking out notorious criminals in the state. Under the encounter policy that the chief minister Yogi Adityanath had envisaged, police in Uttar Pradesh have gunned down 31 criminals in 920 encounters till early January this year. The figures police department released in a recent review meeting claimed 196 criminals and 212 policemen sustained injuries during encounters between the police and criminals.

“Magisterial inquiry takes place after every encounter and reports are sent to the National Human Rights Commission and senior government officials. Directives are issued to field officers to hunt down wanted criminals on a regular basis and ambushes take place if criminals refuse to surrender,” said Anand Kumar, a top police official in the state police.

The encounter policy of UP chief minister reminds of a similar policy that the coalition government of Shiv Sena and BJP had come out with when it came to power in Maharashtra in 1995. The main feature of the policy was to kill criminals because whole process of investigation and trial was too difficult and the rate of organized crime too high. The then encounter policy received widespread support despite the fact that what was happening was illegal, because media had its limitations, courts were simply not interested in the violation of human rights and regressive middle class was fully supportive of the move. The government continued with the policy.

The encounter policy that the government of Yogi Adityanath has been pursuing now is not a new one but the replica of the old one. It is bound to produce a set of problems as it had happened in the past when majority of policemen in Maharashtra had refused to follow it. Only few had agreed for quick promotions and they soon became part of underworld gangs. Still they are called ‘encounter specialists’.

Despite the warning from the Human Rights Commission, the chief minister Adityanath decided to continue with the policy and directed police officials to continue with encounters. What his recklessness has produced is a police force in politically sensitive state of Uttar Pradesh that murder people for promotions and other benefits.

“Everyone should be guaranteed security, but those who want to disturb peace in the society and believe in gun, should be given answer in the same language itself. There is no need to worry on this count, I have told the officials,” the chief minister told a public meeting held in his home-turn of Gorakhpur where a parliamentary by-poll is taking place next month.

Amid reports of fake encounters being staged by the special branch of state police, the Human Rights Commission has sent a series of notices to the state government demanding a detailed report on killings in encounters. The state government, however, turned down the demand contending that a judicial inquiry is conducted after every encounter. The Commission had accused the state government of endorsing killings of innocent people in name of  wiping out criminals.

Buoyed by the chief minister for frequent encounters happening in the state, top police officials say police fires only in self-defense. “Encounters keep happening because we have to catch criminals. Encounters happen because we fire in self-defense,” said O P Singh, a senior state police official. The encounter policy has made policemen happy who love to shoot anyone they don’t like; a criminal or not. Over 900 encounters that took place during March 2017 to January this year have raised serious doubts among right thinking people and defenders of human rights.

The situation has reached such a pass that people are being killed for small altercation with cops as it happened in an incident in NOIDA, a sub-city in national capital region, where a gym trainer was shot down after an alleged altercation with policemen. The UP government appeared unfazed even as notices from NHRC are piling up warning abuse of power by public servants and violation of right to life.

A young person having no criminal record was recently taken to nearby sugarcane field and was shot down in a small village in western Uttar Pradesh by police that was later declared as most wanted criminal. There are many such incidents in which members of minority community were killed prompting opposition parties to question the government. The former chief minister and chief of Bahujan Samaj Party Mayawati was first to react wondering if the criminals belonged to only some specific religious community or class.

“In the name of crime control, the blowing of trumpet over the police encounters in the last six months raises questions that do only members of a particular class or community engage in crime or are history-sheeters?” she asked.

Despite repeated attempts by the NHRC and the opposition parties the union home ministry has not responded. The home minister Rajnath Singh who also hails from Uttar Pradesh is not bothered about reports of human right violation by state police saying they are doing a good job. The opposition parties also raked up the issue in the recently concluded session of Parliament demanding answer from the government.

 (Kushal Jeena)