Cops convicted for 1997 CP encounter released
On March 31, 1997, the ten policemen were part of a Crime Branch squad that opened fire on a blue sedan at the Barakhamba intersection, killing two of the three occupants -- Jagjit Singh and Pradeep Goyal. The target of the operation was a gangster named Mohammed Yasneen, who was also meant to be in a blue sedan.Updated: Oct 26, 2020, 03:21 IST
Ten Delhi cops who gunned down two innocent men during a botched operation in Connaught Place in 1997 were released from prison on Saturday, more than 23 years since they were first arrested over an incident that was then seen as a symbol of police excesses and prolonged trials in the country.
On March 31, 1997, the ten policemen were part of a Crime Branch squad that opened fire on a blue sedan at the Barakhamba intersection, killing two of the three occupants -- Jagjit Singh and Pradeep Goyal. The target of the operation was a gangster named Mohammed Yasneen, who was also meant to be in a blue sedan.
“In March 2020, the sentence review board (SRB) unanimously recommended the names of the 10 police officers for release. On Friday, after receiving an approval from the Union home ministry, the Delhi government’s home department issued an order,” said a prisons officer, asking not to be named.
The case gained public attention at the time, becoming the subject of documentaries and films. The notoriety stemmed from the nature of the policemen’s actions: having realised that they killed the wrong people, the team planted weapons to show them as criminals.
The day after the murders, the police held a press conference to claim a successful operation targeting gang members. Soon, the families of the victims began speaking up and the case was transferred to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).
But, if the crime and the aftermath exposed the many flaws of India’s criminal justice system, the time the men spent behind bars and their conduct in this period may support the case for reformation of convicts.
“What happened 23 years ago happened in the line of duty. It was such a bad coincidence that we spotted the vehicle of the same colour, at about the same time and in the same place. Maybe we would have been released sooner had we not tried to cover up our mistakes. But we were young then,” said Anil Kumar, who was then an inspector and was among the ten, after his release.
“Life is about mistakes and correcting them. We spent more than 16 years behind bars. Spending even a night in prison is difficult. We saw what life is in prison. I will work for the underprivileged sections of the society. I have made this my aim to ensure that people do not suffer because they are poor”.
Except for those convicted of terrorism or multiple murders, prisoners serving life terms are eligible for release after they have been behind bars for at least 14 years. The 10 policemen spent 16 of the last 23 years in Tihar jail, having secured bail while the case dragged on prior to their conviction in 2007.
Unlike other cases relating to prisoners in Tihar, the release of the cops needed the Union home ministry’s nod, instead of the lieutenant governor’s as is usually the case. This is because cases investigated by CBI need to approved for early released by the central government.
The 10 former police personnel were given good recommendations by the jail superintendent and the welfare officer, which helped their case, according to a second prisons official, asking not to be named.
The most senior officer among the 10 -- former assistant commissioner of police SS Rathi -- studied law and later mastered in the subject. His then deputy Kumar helped prisoners with their cases using his knowledge of police work and started an in-house prisoner’s magazine, Tihar officials said.
Former Delhi police’s additional commissioner Ashok Chand, who worked in police for over three decades, said: “I knew some members of the team. They were excellent officers who made a mistake in the line of duty. They paid for their mistake. The law has also taken its course. They have served their life imprisonment. It is time for them to move on. I wish them the best of luck.”
Families of the victims could not be contacted for comments.