The Madhya Pradesh government has requested the Union home ministry to let the National Investigation Agency (NIA) investigate the jailbreak of eight Islamic radicals and their subsequent death in police firing.
The ministry received the formal request on Friday, a day after the state appointed Justice (retd) SK Pandey to head a judicial inquiry into the controversial incident.
The move is viewed as an attempt by the BJP government to offset criticism that the undertrial prisoners of the banned Students’ Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) died in a staged, extra-judicial killing, or fake encounter, on Monday.
“The ministry is likely to seek opinion of the NIA before issuing any order. It may decline to involve the NIA in the case as well,” a senior official said in New Delhi.
Chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan promised to seek an investigation by the NIA, the anti-terrorism agency formed after the 2008 Mumbai attacks, after the eight men escaped from Bhopal central jail and were killed on the city outskirts hours later.
Authorities said the prisoners used duplicate keys to open cell locks, killed a jail guard with an improvised knife, dodged sentries and scaled a 30-foot wall of the high-security prison to produce a daring jailbreak. But this account is being contested.
Many videos, though unverified, emerged after the incident that put to question the authenticity of shootout. Purported footage from a CCTV camera inside the jail was aired on television on Friday, showing the SIMI roaming freely in the high-security prison.
The prisoners could not be identified in the video, but their swagger gave credence to allegations that they led an easy life with lax security in the jail.
The video surfaced after an unverified audio clip of walkie-talkie conversation between police officers directing the shooting at Khijradev village. “Bilkul piche nahi hatna hai. Gherke poora kardo kaam tamaam (No retreat. Surround them and kill),” an officer orders is heard saying.
The fugitives were killed within eight hours of their escape at Khijradev village, 10km from Bhopal city.
“It is a matter of investigation. I cannot comment on that,” Bhopal inspector general of police Yogesh Choudhary remarked on the authenticity of the clip.
(With inputs from Rajesh Ahuja in New Delhi)