Doubts swirl but MP govt rules out probe into SIMI ‘encounter’
A police shooting of eight Islamist prisoners escaping from a Bhopal jail will not be investigated, Madhya Pradesh home minister Bhupendra Singh said on Tuesday, despite persistent doubts the killings were staged.
The men, members of the banned Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) awaiting trial, fled the high security jail early on Monday after slitting the throat of a prison guard. Hours later, police tracked down and shot all eight dead.
But two videos purportedly of the ‘encounter’ and a string of unanswered questions have led human rights activists and opposition parties to doubt the genuineness of the police claims.
“Our police tracked the absconding SIMI men in a short time and neutralized them bravely. Nothing more needs to be said on it,” Bhupendra Singh, the state home minister, told Hindustan Times.
“The encounter is unquestionable and it will not be probed by NIA. They will investigate only the jail break and how it happened,” he said, using the abbreviation for the National Investigation Agency.
Police insist there was no breakdown in security at the prison or that protocols were violated in engaging the fleeing prisoners.
But they have offered little explanations to questions raised over the jailbreak and the circumstances of the killings.
For instance, hours before police gunned down the SIMI men and recovered a sharp weapon they allegedly used to kill the prison guard, Indian media was already reporting on the exact nature of the “knife”.
Quoting police sources, those reports said the sharp weapon was fashioned out of spoons and plates. Three hours later one of the purported videos of the encounter showed policemen recovering a sharp metallic object from one of the dead men.
The so-called weapon fitted the description of the “knife” earlier reported by TV channels, raising questions over how police knew the “knife” had been made out of kitchen utensils even before recovering it.
State police spokesman Pradeep Bhatia did not respond to calls and text messages.
Neither has police offered any explanation on why the prisoners chose to scale a stretch of the perimeter wall that was next to a watch tower manned by two sentries round-the-clock.
The Bhopal Central Jail premises are built in two concentric circles with an outer wall 18 feet high and an inner perimeter wall eight feet high. The barracks are located inside the inner perimeter, making it nearly impossible to escape undetected.
The jail has 2,900 prisoners and hundreds of guards and watch towers.
Some of the jail surveillance cameras weren’t working either that night.
So far, four officials, including the prison’s superintendent, have been suspended.
Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan told reporters the breakout posed a threat to national security and authorities swiftly mobilised all law enforcement arms to track the fugitives.
“I am pained to see the kind of politics being played out. Some politicians are turning a blind eye to the sacrifices of the martyrs,” Chouhan said after visiting the home of the slain prison guard, Ramashankar Yadav.
“Certain politicians are making a hue and cry for these terrorists but not lending a word of solace for the martyred jawans.”