NEW DELHI, January 4 (Agencies): Allegations of fake encounters by security forces in Manipur will be investigated by a three-member commission, the Supreme Court said today. The top court said former Supreme Court judge Santosh Hegde, former Chief Election Commissioner JM Lyngdoh and a senior police officer will be in the commission. After they give consent, the court will pass formal orders next week.
A petition in the court had alleged more than 1,500 fake encounters in Manipur in the last three decades and demanded a probe by a special investigation team. The Supreme Court said five encounters would be investigated to begin with and the rest would be considered later.
The Centre opposed the commission and pitched for a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation. But the court said: “Even magisterial reports of encounters are not sent to the National Human Rights Commission. There`s an urgent need for an independent probe by people of eminence.”
It, however, turned down the plea for SIT investigation.
“We do not want that but there is a need for independent inquiry by the persons of impeccable integrity and credibility,” the bench said adding that National Human Rights Commission has also complained about the violations of its guidelines in such cases.
It also refused to go into the legality of Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act which grants special powers to the Armed Forces in disturbed areas.
“At the moment we do not have to go into the AFSPA. It is a complex issue. You do not have to rush. This is not the end of the matter. We have just begun. We have to go a long way,” the bench told the petitioner.
The petitioner in its plea contended that there has been no criminal investigations and prosecutions of the guilty in such encounter cases and even departmental inquiries were not conducted and no policemen or personnel of the security forces were punished departmentally for their actions.
“The magisterial inquiries that took place sometimes were conducted by the executive magistrates under the cover of secrecy and most often without intimation to the eyewitnesses and the members of the families. They were conducted as an eyewash,” the petition said.
The bench objected to the contentions of the Manipur government which tried to justify the encounter killings saying that the people killed were involved in anti-national activities.
“In this country, as long as we are here and the Rule of Law is here, we cannot allow gun shots for accused,” the bench said, taking exception to the government`s contention for terming the families of the victims of encounter killings as anti-national.
“I am taking strong exception to your contention. How can you term the petitioners anti-national without any evidence? Nationalism is not a monopoly of the state. You do not have the authority to term them ant-national just because you are a state. These are the allegations which make people anti-national,” the bench said.
“Do not raise finger at them? Why do they have to prove their credentials for nationalism? We grieve equally for the death of security personnel and common man,” the bench said.
The bench again referred Delhi gang rape case while asking the lawyers not to mention the word juvenile for minor accused.
“Juvenile is not a good description. We saw in recent case. Juvenile commits such crime. He is just a person,” the bench said when the petitioner contended that a juvenile was killed in a fake encounter in Manipur.
Observing on terrorist activities, the bench remarked, “In this country, it is misfortune to see that a Prime Minister and an ex-Prime Minister got killed but that does not give us the right to lynch the accused.”
“We hope the Commission headed by Santosh Hedge will bring justice,” said human rights activist Babloo Loitongbam.