'Implement police reforms, trigger-happy cops will go'
One way out to stem the surge in extra-judicial killings is to implement the Supreme Court's recommendations on police reforms which will go a long way in checking trigger-happy cops, say security experts and police officers.
Political patronage, out-of-turn promotions and departmental benefits are some of the major motivating reasons attributed to the increasing number of "encounter killings" - police euphemism for shootouts that are often staged - that provides such policemen with a veneer of immunity.
The issue has gained prominence following the arrest of three senior police officers from Gujarat last month.
Gujarat Deputy Inspector General (Border Range) D G Vanjhara and two others are in the spotlight for reportedly killing a Madhya Pradesh resident Sohrabuddin Sheikh and his wife Kausar Bi in November 2005, branding them as Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) terrorists, sparking a major political controversy.
"Tales of such 'encounters' or staged killings are almost as old as independent India. The Model Police Act proposed in 2006 by former attorney general Soli Sorabjee and whose report is with the government may bring an end to such cases if it is implemented," Kiran Bedi, director general of the Bureau of Police Research and Development, told the agency.
"We have not reformed our police systems for ages. Most of the recommendations are constructive and I simply cannot fathom why state governments are opposing this excellent body of work," added Bedi, a strong votary of the Model Act.
The proposed act focuses on insulating state police forces from the political class that is bound to engender a professional and thinking set of police officers.
The act also suggests six guidelines including the setting up of national and state security commissions, a police complaint authority system, separation of law-and-order and investigation, a fixed tenure to officers from the rank of Director General of Police (DGP) to station house officers and instituting a police establishment board headed by the DGP of the state to oversee transfers and postings of subordinate officers.
The Supreme Court directed all states governments last year to implement these guidelines following a public interest petition filed by Prakash Singh, a former DGP of Uttar Pradesh and the Border Security Force. But there has been little movement forward.
Several state governments have taken exception to the recommendations saying that law and order is a state subject. The Gujarat government, for instance, refused to set up a complaints authority pointing out such a parallel body would undermine the constitutional role of the executive.
"When the honourable apex court has directed all the state governments to implement it, why are they opposing it?" queried Bedi.
One big question that has emerged following the Gujarat killings is the proximity of the three officers with the political leadership in the state.
"The arrest of Vanjhara and his men has exposed the nexus between politicians and police officials. Criminalisation of the police administration must be prevented if we have to move ahead," Prakash Singh told the agency.
For a promotee who rose up the ranks, Vanjhara is alleged to have amassed assets amounting to Rs 1.5 billion including bungalows and hotels in and around Gandhinagar. Now it surfaces that during his stint with the crime branch he shot dead more than 10 "terrorists".
"It is clear that some policemen are increasingly functioning as the personal assassins of politicians. The cops are sometimes pressurized to carry out such orders in lieu of personal benefits," added Tilak Raj Kakkar, former Delhi police commissioner.
"The alleged encounter specialists deliberately chose to come closer to politicians for better postings and perks. The current system provides power to these ministers to transfer officials anywhere in the state."
In Mumbai, for instance, the Shiv Sena government was accused of using the police to wipe out underworld don Arun Gawli's lieutenants when the latter's political ambitions posed a threat to the party.
Kakkar clearly said that state control over the police system should be removed and the proposed police reforms must be implemented.
"It is bound to fetch relief from staged killings," he stated categorically.
Daya Nayak, perceived as Mumbai's 'encounter specialist' cop, now faces prosecution over charges that he made millions by renting out his services.
Starting his life as a waiter in a small Udupi hotel in Mumbai, Nayak joined as a lowly sub-inspector in the Juhu police station and within no time worked his way into the charmed special squad. Last year, the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) probing Nayak reportedly recovered at least Rs 90 million worth of illegal assets in separate raids.
Nayak's monthly salary was a mere Rs 12,000 but investigations revealed that he was a partner in a Dubai hotel, which boasted of a lavish dance bar and also had a flat in Switzerland in his wife, Komal's name.
Apart from Vanjhara and Nayak, who have been feted for their murderous skills, Rajbir Singh, Delhi Police's encounter specialist, has also been accused of hiring out his services for builders and landlords.
"These people are some of the richest public servants in the country," Singh said.
"It is the responsibility of senior officers to keep strict vigilance of their juniors. If they are not controlled, they work for their own selfish interests. Then they do killings for extortions or for departmental benefits," Kakkar said.
Two years back, the National Human Right Commission (NHRC) received 122 reports from the various state governments about killings in encounters in the country.
Uttar Pradesh topped the list with 66 incidents, followed by Andhra Pradesh (18), Delhi (9), Maharastra (5) and Madhya Pradesh (5).
Separately, the NHRC received 84 complaints about alleged killings in fake encounters but no police officer has been prosecuted till date nor has been pulled up their superiors.
Many of the experts spoke to admit that several such tainted officers have become, in a way, indispensable to the police machinery because of their political proximity.
"Because of their power, reach and network with the mafia, they often provide services and favours to superior officers and the political class," admitted a senior intelligence official.
Singh, who has been fighting an almost single-handed battle to implement the Police Act, finally added: "If any encounter specialist has been nailed, it is only because of intervention of the courts. Their wings have been clipped but many are still very much part of the police force."