The National Investigation Agency (NIA) will not probe the police shooting of eight Islamist prisoners who escaped from a Bhopal jail, Madhya Pradesh home minister Bhupendra Singh said on Tuesday, despite persistent doubts the killings were staged.
Instead, the state government said the ‘encounter’ will be investigated by the Criminal Investigation Department, part of its own police force that faces accusations of killing the eight men in cold blood .
“The encounter is unquestionable and it will not be probed by NIA. They will investigate only the jail break and how it happened,” Singh told HT on Tuesday morning.
But later in the evening, the government appeared to hedge on seeking the NIA’s help on the jailbreak with Singh saying a decision was yet to be made.
The flip-flop will likely add to the controversy over the slain men, who were said to be members of the banned Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI).
Underlining concerns over the shootings, the National Human Rights Commission asked the government to submit a report on the killings within six weeks. The state human rights panel too sought a report from the government.
The prisoners, awaiting trial in robbery and terrorism cases, allegedly fled the high security jail early on Monday after slitting the throat of a guard. But two videos purportedly of the ‘encounter’ that took place hours after the jailbreak have led human rights activists and opposition parties to doubt the genuineness of the police claims.
Police deny there was any breakdown in prison security or that protocols were violated in engaging the fleeing prisoners.
They have, however, offered little explanations to questions raised over the jailbreak and the circumstances of the killings.
For instance, hours before police gunned down the eight men and recovered a sharp weapon they allegedly used to kill the prison guard, Indian media was already reporting on the exact nature of the “knife”.
Quoting police sources, those reports said the sharp weapon was fashioned out of spoons and plates. Three hours later one of the purported videos of the encounter showed policemen recovering a sharp metallic object from one of the dead men.
The so-called weapon fitted the description of the “knife” earlier reported by TV channels, raising questions over how police knew the “knife” had been made out of kitchen utensils even before recovering it.
Neither has police offered any explanation on why the prisoners chose to scale a stretch of the perimeter wall that was next to a watch tower manned by two sentries round-the-clock.
The surveillance cameras in the jail’s B block, where the SIMI men were lodged, weren’t working either. Police also didn’t find any spent cartridges at the ‘encounter’ site, though they claimed the SIMI men had fired at them. The purported ‘encounter’ videos showed little blood on the eight bodies.
State police spokesman Pradeep Bhatia did not respond to calls and text messages.
So far, four officials, including the prison’s superintendent, have been suspended.
State chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan told reporters the breakout posed a threat to national security and authorities swiftly mobilised all law enforcement arms to track the fugitives.
“I am pained to see the kind of politics being played out. Some politicians are turning a blind eye to the sacrifices of the martyrs,” Chouhan said after visiting the home of the slain prison guard, Ramashankar Yadav.
“Certain politicians are making a hue and cry for these terrorists but not lending a word of solace for the martyred jawans.”
Congress leader Digvijaya Singh, however, raised questions over the encounter and sought an independent probe.
(with inputs from Rajesh Ahuja and Kalyan Das)