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Is Chouhan govt dragging feet on NIA inquiry?

bhopal Updated: Nov 03, 2016 18:28 IST
Appu Esthose Suresh & Neeraj Santoshi, Bhopal

Funeral procession of five SIMI operatives in Khandwa town on Tuesday evening. (HT photo)

Two days after eight SIMI men were killed in a controversial encounter following a jailbreak, the government is yet to ask the Centre for a probe by National Investigation Agency (NIA), a senior state home department official said on condition of anonymity.

A senior police official independently verified this claim and said, “Police is yet to send its request”. Embarrassingly, this comes at a time when two senior police officers directly involved in the alleged encounter have given different versions about the SIMI members possessing weapons, further fuelling suspicions of a staged encounter.

CM had announced an NIA probe on the first day itself

Chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan had announced an NIA probe on the first day itself. He even said Union home minister Rajnath Singh agreed to the state government’s request. Later, the CM’s confidant and state home minister Bhupendra Singh reiterated this position in an interview to HT. Singh also said the probe will be limited to jail break, as the encounter is “unquestionable”.

This is when the flip-flop began. By Tuesday evening, Rishi Kumar Shukla, the state police chief, announced setting up a special CID team to probe the encounter.

Moreover, the senior police official cited in the first instance above on the condition of anonymity, said, “There is no consensus of what should be the exact brief. Also, there are fears once the case is handed over to NIA, they will be at the liberty to expand the scope of investigation.”

Nothing stops the NIA from taking over the case as it is terror related

However, nothing stops the NIA from taking over the case as it is terror related. There has been precedence. In 2014, NIA took over the Burdwan bomb blast case bypassing the West Bengal government. Similarly, the Sunil Joshi murder case linked to right wing terror was taken over by NIA at a later stage despite resistance from the police.

On Monday, the head of anti-terrorist squad Sanjeev Shami told media that the slain SIMI members did not possess any weapons, a stand he reiterated on Wednesday. This contradicts Bhopal IG Yogesh Choudhary, who said police had fired in retaliation and three policemen had sustained injuries.

Home minister Bhupendra Singh is backing Choudhary’s version. Based on police seizure memo HT on Wednesday reported that spent bullet casings weren’t among items recovered from the encounter site. Empty shells would have been key evidence to prove the police account that the fugitives had fired at them.

Contradictory statements from the government and police have only served to reinforce an impression that the encounter may not have been entirely genuine.

Former police chief probing the lapses that led to the jailbreak

For now, former police chief Nandan Dubey is probing the lapses that led to the jailbreak while the CID is investigating the encounter. The Bhopal city police and Anti Terrorism Squad (ATS) are investigating the jailbreak.