Declaring fake encounter killings by policemen "cold-blooded brutal murders", the Supreme Court on Friday said such cases should be treated as the "rarest of the rare" and police personnel involved should face the gallows.
"We are of the view that in cases where a fake encounter is proved against policemen in a trial, they must be given death sentence, treating it as the rarest of rare cases, a bench headed by justice Markandey Katju, which recently also favoured death penalty for "honour killings", said.
The verdict comes at a time when many senior police officials in Gujarat are facing murder charges in Sohrabuddin Sheikh encounter case.
Referring to the Nuremburg trials, during which Nazi war criminals of the Second World War had taken the plea that "orders are orders" and had to be carried out, the court said that their plea was not accepted and they were hanged.
The court said, "If a policeman is given an illegal order by any superior to do a fake 'encounter', it is his duty to refuse to carry out such illegal order, otherwise he will be charged for murder, and if found guilty sentenced to death."
The bench upheld the January 21, 2011 order of the Bombay HC dismissing bail applications of five Mumbai Police officials including Prakash Kadam, who allegedly acted as contract killers to eliminate real estate agenct Ramnarayan Gupta in November 2006 in Versova area of the metropolis. 'Encounter specialist' Pradeep Sharma is also an accused in the case.
“The 'encounter' philosophy is a criminal philosophy, and all policemen must know this. Trigger happy policemen who think they can kill people in the name of 'encounter' and get away with it should know that the gallows await them," the court said.
"Fake encounters are nothing but cold-blooded, brutal murder by persons who are supposed to uphold the law. In our opinion, if crimes are committed by ordinary people, ordinary punishment should be given but if the offence is committed by policemen much harsher punishment should be given to them because they do an act totally contrary to their duties," the SC said.
SC said: “When the rule of law collapses, it is replaced by Matsyanyaya, which means the law of the jungle. In Sanskrit, the word 'Matsya' means fish, and Matsyanyaya means a state of affairs where the big fish devours the smaller one”.