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Contentious calibre

‘Those who live by the sword die by the sword, as you sow, so shall you reap.’

india Updated: Mar 27, 2008 00:22 IST

‘Those who live by the sword die by the sword, as you sow, so shall you reap.’ These are some of the sentiments flying thick and fast after the killing of Delhi ‘encounter specialist’ police office Rajbir Singh, allegedly by a property dealer with whom his relationship had soured. Conspiracy theories will do the rounds about shadowy figures being behind the murder. But the question remains: what role does an encounter specialist have in a democratic system? Does the very term not smack of extra-judicial powers that most often lead to the deaths of innocent people under the guise of eliminating hardened criminals? Many will argue that the law as it exists is often unable to deal with many instances of criminality and that this calls for alternative methods of dispensing justice. It is a supposition that finds many takers in India with its lax judicial system. But once the State, the custodian of the individual’s right to life, vests certain law-enforcing officials such as Rajbir Singh with the power to bypass the law, what system does it have to keep them in check? The answer is none.

And this explains why many encounter specialists arrogated to themselves such power and pelf that they were eventually consumed by it. A case in point is that of celebrated Mumbai sharp-shooter Daya Nayak. The officer had several Bollywood films made on him and it was only when his ambition overstepped itself that he fell from grace. The very State that liberally gave him the extraordinary power to silence the underworld turned against him. Similarly, Singh whose credentials are being questioned now, was feted for his role in the Ansal Plaza encounter of people who, it later turned, may not have been terrorists at all.

Most encounter specialists have had dodgy records which were overlooked until they moved from their State-sanctioned parallel tracks into becoming complete loose cannons. It is then that many of them were manipulated by those outside the law, like the underworld, for its own ends. Or by vested commercial interests, as suspected in Singh’s case. For the encounter specialists, their victims and the State, this perverted judicial system is dangerous and undesirable. This may be a cliché but there is no substitute to a functioning criminal justice system. In the absence of this, the State itself could end up being responsible for crime and punishment. And the cult of the encounter specialist will be perpetuated.