Encounter deaths: SC pulls up Gujarat Govt
The apex court expressed its displeasure over appointment of former Bombay High Court Chief Justice K R Vayas in place of former apex court judge, Justice M B Shah, who had quit as the panel`s head on personal and health grounds.
"We should also have been told about the proposal for the appointment of new chairman," a bench of justices Aftab Alam and Ranjana Prakash Desai said.
Senior advocate Ranjit Kumar and Gujarat`s Additional Advocate General Tushar Mehta told the bench that the notification for appointment of Justice Vayas, former chairman of Maharashtra Human Rights Commission was issued on Thursday as Justice Shah has refused to continue as chairman and as per the January 25 order of the apex court, the monitoring panel had to file its interim report in a time bound manner.
The bench, however, said the appointment should have been made by consulting the court as it had passed the order. "You (Gujarat government) have unnecessarily complicated the matter. You should have come to us. You should have waited," the bench observed.
"This concerns our order. You should have brought this fact to our notice," the bench said.
The court was of the view that since the counsel for Gujarat government had come to know on Monday that the matter was listed for today they should have told the court about the proposal for the appointment of Justice Vayas.
The bench was hearing two PILs filed by veteran journalist B G Verghese and poet and lyricist Javed Akhtar, who had sought a direction for a probe by an independent agency or the CBI so that the "truth may come out".
The bench had on January 25 asked the monitoring authority to give it within three months a preliminary report on killings, allegedly committed in fake encounters between 2002 and 2006 in Gujarat, purportedly in a pattern, dubbing minority community people as terrorists and targetting them.
The Gujarat government had on April 7 and September 18, 2010, come out with the notifications for constituting the STF to investigate the cases of encounter killings and appointment of Justice (Retd) M B Shah as the chairman of the monitoring authority respectively.
The bench had said it will be open for the chairman of the monitoring authority to constitute an independent team either with officer from Gujarat Special Task Force (STF) or from outside "considering the sensitivity of the matter" as some senior officers of the state police force have been accused of killing people in fake encounters.
The bench, however, clarified that the monitoring authority will not go into the cases which are being probed by other agencies on apex court orders.
Verghese had said the pattern of killings showed there was a need for investigation and had sought a direction to the Centre and the Gujarat government to order an inquiry into the encounter killings and compensation to the vitims` kin.
Akhtar, in his petition, had cited news reports and a news magazine`s sting operation into the killing of an alleged criminal Sameer Khan in October 2002.
The bench, in its order, noted his allegation that it was a fake encounter and that there was an attempt for its "cover up" by the Gujarat government.
Khan, who was in police custody, was killed on the intervening night of October 21-22, 2002, when he allegedly snatched the revolver of a policeman who had accompanied him with a team to a spot where he had allegedly murdered a constable.
An FIR was registered alleging that Khan was involved in a conspiracy hatched by Pakistan`s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) to assassinate Gujarat Chief Minister Narender Modi and other leaders.
Akhtar, who jointly filed the petition along with social activist Shabnam Hashmi, had alleged it was the same team of Gujarat police which allegedly killed Sohrabuddin Sheikh in the fake encounter and later murdered his wife Kauser Bi.
Their petitions, filed through advocate Prashant Bhushan, had contended there were other media reports of alleged killings of innocent persons in fake encounters by the same team of Gujarat police and sought investigation by an SIT into the "cover-up".