Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan has come in for criticism from several quarters for hastily ‘felicitating’ policemen involved in the controversial killing of eight SIMI activists, hours after they reportedly broke out of a jail.
Legal experts say Chouhan’s announcement of cash awards for the policemen goes against the Supreme Court guidelines in respect to police encounters. Rights groups say the CM’s public show of appreciation for the encounter will compromise an independent inquiry that the government later ordered.
Chouhan felicitated the policemen a day after the encounter, currently shrouded in controversy after the emergence of several incriminating video and audio clips that seem to suggest the fugitives were shot in cold blood.
“Kill them all,” a police officer was purportedly heard saying in one of the audio clips.
Chauhan announced Rs 2 lakh for each policeman involved in the encounter and `1 lakh each for others involved in tracking down the fugitives.
The cash awards were however kept in abeyance after the government was forced to order a judicial probe to dispel public doubts over the encounter.
“Any recommendation for reward before it is established that the encounter was not a fake one, those who were killed were not killed in cold blood and the police personnel were cleared by SIT, is a violation of the Apex Court guidelines. Felicitation of police personnel too is violation the guidelines,” advocate Raghvendra Kumar told HT.
He pointed out that the Supreme Court in one of its rulings had discouraged out-of-turn promotion and cash awards for ‘unverified’ encounters since policemen could construe them as incentives for staged killings.
Opposition leaders in the state are also questioning what purpose the judicial inquiry will serve, now that the chief minister has patted the policemen on their backs.
State Congress spokesperson JP Dhanopiya said Chouhan gave the police clean chit even before any inquiry commission looked into the encounter.
Retired police officer Arun Gurtoo said the government seemed to be in a hurry to take credit for the encounter for political reasons. “It did so despite several glaring questions over the killings,” he said.
Former chief secretary Nirmala Buch also pointed out that certain process and formalities had to be followed before cash awards for encounters could be announced.
Several rights groups are pressing the government to disclose what procedures were followed.
Home minister Bhupendra Singh, however, defended Chouhan and said the chief minister did nothing wrong.
“There was no written order on the reward. We have already put it on hold. We will decide about the same after the inquiry is over and when we find that there is nothing adverse against the police personnel and others,” he said.