Principal shooter in Umesh Pal murder killed in UP encounter
PrayagrajUttar Pradesh Police on Monday gunned down a 27-year-old man who allegedly fired the first shot at lawyer Umesh Pal, a key witness in a high-profile murder case whose daylight killing last week sparked a political storm and concerns about law and order
Uttar Pradesh Police on Monday gunned down a 27-year-old man who allegedly fired the first shot at lawyer Umesh Pal, a key witness in a high-profile murder case whose daylight killing last week sparked a political storm and concerns about law and order.
This is the second time in the space of seven days that a suspect in the sensational murder has been killed in an encounter. On February 27, the police shot dead a 24-year-old man who allegedly helped the killers escape in an encounter in Prayagraj town.
“A shooter involved in the February 24 incident was injured in an encounter with police in Prayagraj. He was rushed for treatment to a hospital, where he died,” additional director general of police, Prashant Kumar, told reporters.
Vijay Chaudhary, also known as Usman, suffered bullet injuries in his neck, chest and thighs during the encounter, said a senior police officer requesting anonymity. He was a resident of Bamokhar village area of Kaundhiyara and carried a cash reward of ₹50,000, said the police.
Chaudhary’s wife Suhani alleged that the police took away her husband and father-in-law in the morning and confiscated their mobile phones. Accusing the police of misusing the law, she said, “The police action is absolutely wrong. The law is not made to kill someone. The law is made to protect people.”
The encounter took place between Gothi and Belwa villages under the Kaundhiyara police station area around 5.30am. A police constable, Narendra Kumar, also sustained injuries in the shoot-out.
“This is a big achievement. We have made it clear that strict action will be taken against those involved (in the killing) and those who hatched the conspiracy,” said Kumar.
Police said Chaudhary was the first person to open fire at Pal as seen in CCTV footage of the murder and that he was a close associate of gangster-turned-politician Atiq Ahmad, who is the prime accused in Pal’s murder. Police said Ahmad, also a former parliamentarian, gave Chaudhary the name Usman.
Acting on information that Chaudhary was hiding near his own village after the February 24 murder and spending the night in the fields near it, police teams surrounded the place and launched a search, said Ramit Sharma, police commissioner (Prayagraj).
Policemen located Chaudhary in the fields and tried to arrest him, but the latter opened fire on the policemen, forcing them to retaliate, he said. “A .32 bore pistol, live bullets and spent casings of bullets were recovered from the site,” he added.
Umesh Pal was a key witness in the 2005 murder of Bahujan Samaj Party lawmaker Raju Pal in Prayagraj, a case in which gangster-turned-politician and ex-MP Atiq Ahmad and his brother and former MLA Khalid Azeem aka Ashraf were the prime accused.
On February 24, a group of assailants fired at Umesh Pal outside his home in Prayagraj, killing the lawyer and his two security guards and sending shock waves through the state. In the face of concern over the state’s law and order, the government vowed to end “mafia raj” in the state.
A first information report (FIR), registered against 17 people on a complaint by Pal’s wife Jaya, named Atiq Ahmad, his wife Shaista Parveen, sons and younger brother Khalid Azeem aka Ashraf, as accused.
Three days later, police gunned down a 24-year-old man Mohammad Arbaaz in a controversial encounter in the city’s Nehru Park. Police say Arbaaz was responsible for allowing Umesh Pal’s assailants to flee after the crime.
On March 1, authorities demolished the house of Zafar Ahmad Khan, where Parveen lived on rent. The next day, the administration in Prayagraj demolished a two-storey house of another alleged aide of Atiq — Safdar Ali — who owned a gun store. The same day, the house of Abdul Kavi, another close aide of Atiq and on the run for the past 18 years, was razed by bulldozers in Kaushambi district.
“I want to say that the UP police is committed to arresting all those involved in the murder and presenting them in court. We will collect evidence and prosecute all those involved in this,” Kumar said.
This is not the first time that a police encounter in UP has generated a controversy. In July 2020, the state police shot dead gangster Vikas Dubey during what they said was a botched escape attempt. But the manner of the accident in which the car Dubey was in overturned and the encounter sparked accusations that the incident was staged. A judicial panel later cleared the administration.
Former Uttar Pradesh cabinet minister and MLA from Allahabad West Sidharth Nath Singh on Monday defended chief minister Yogi Adityanath, who, he said, would make “mafias bite the dust”. Stating that there has never been any duality in the CM’s statements and actions, the MLA added: “The BJP in its manifesto had promised to adopt zero tolerance towards criminals and crime. It is in accordance with this that Uttar Pradesh is being freed from goons and mafias today. These empires of criminals and mafias were created by the Samajwadi Party over the last 30 years.”
Singh termed Monday’s action a major success for the Prayagraj police and a befitting answer to the opposition who were raising questions over the action taken in Pal’s murder case. “The Uttar Pradesh government will write the final chapter in the Umesh Pal case,” he said.
The Samajwadi Party, however, termed it a “fake encounter”.
“This looks like the second fake encounter in Prayagraj. Where have the real assailants who gunned down late Pal ji (Umesh Pal) vanished? Honourable Prime Minister should shut all courts — from lower to Supreme Court — under this bulldozer culture regime,” Samajwadi Party spokesperson IP Singh said.