Prasanna Mishra

The killing of Atiq Ahmed and his brother, Ashraf, in Prayagraj by three men posing as journalists during a media interaction on the night of April 15 while both, handcuffed by the police personnel, were being escorted to a hospital for a check-up, has raised many issues on the criminal justice administration in the country. Both were shot at point-blank range and none of the three assailants was even fired at, forget about being gunned down, by the police while the daring act was being accomplished with fineness—a feat possible only from well-trained shooters in sophisticated weapons in a congenial environment without fear of possible police resistance. Earlier, the Supreme Court had dismissed Atiq Ahmed’s plea seeking protection during his custody with the police of Uttar Pradesh in connection with the Umesh Pal murder case. The Apex Court had observed that the state machinery would take care of his protection in case of a threat to his life. When he claimed that his life was under threat while being in the custody of the Uttar Pradesh Police, the Apex Court provided liberty to him to approach the Allahabad High Court for protection. In his plea, Atiq had referred to the statement made by Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath on the floor of the Assembly to "completely ruin and destroy" him and claimed there is a "genuine and perceptible threat" to his and his family members' lives.

The gruesome killing of Atiq and his brother only proved that the apprehension of Atiq expressed in his prayer to the Apex Court that his life was in danger was true. It also highlighted that the state government did not protect him even when Atiq was in police custody -- under Sovereign protection. 

 It is relevant here to mention that on April 13, 2023, two individuals, including the son of Atiq Ahmed, were killed in an ‘encounter’ by the Uttar Pradesh Police in Jhansi. Both were accused in the murder of Umesh Pal, a lawyer, who was shot dead in front of his Allahabad residence on February 24 in broad daylight. Pal was the prime witness in the assassination of BSP MLA Raju Pal in 2005, in which Atiq Ahmed was the prime accused. Asad and Ghulam were wanted in the Umesh Pal murder case of Prayagraj and were carrying a reward of Rs 5 lakh each. 

These two incidents where the son and the father fell to bullets within three days, point to the fact that both were deep into crime. The fact that the father could be gunned down in a most daring manner by three people coming in a group with meticulous planning displayed a chaotic state of policing. 

It could be argued that with the killing of Atiq, the state lost a very powerful actor in the crime world and hopefully the state would have a cooling down of gangsters’ operations. But the important issue is about the fundamental right of a citizen, the state’s duty to protect citizens-- even a criminal and the operation of the rule of law and acknowledging the majesty of the law. 

Can extra-judicial killing be justified only because the person killed was perceived as a notorious criminal? The Hyderabad case in November 2019 relating to the gang rape and murder of a 26-year-old veterinary doctor in Shamshabad is relevant. The incident sparked outrage across the country. Her body was found on 28 November 2019, the day after she was murdered. Four suspects were arrested and, according to the police, they had confessed to the crime. All four accused were killed on 6 December 2019, under a bridge on the Bangalore-Hyderabad national highway, while they were in police custody. According to the police, the suspects were taken to the location for a reconstruction of the crime scene, where two of them allegedly snatched guns and attacked the police. In the ensuing shootout, all four suspects were shot dead. Some accused the police of extrajudicial execution, while hundreds of thousands of people celebrated the men's deaths. In 2022, an Inquiry Commission appointed by the Supreme Court concluded in its report that the encounter was staged, and the matter was transferred to the Telangana High Court for further action. 

As the Commission found, the encounter was a managed one. Four men were killed. But were they really the guilty ones? Who had proved their guilt? In our constitutional arrangement, the guilt has to be proven in a court of law. In this case, it was not so, In Indian conditions it is not always the case that the arrested person has committed the crime. In 2021, in India, murder conviction rate was only 42.4%. In other words, about 57 out of 100 people charged with murder got acquitted. In most cases of police encounters, the person killed might not have been even charged. 

Unfortunately, in many cases, the extra-judicial killings of supposedly notorious criminals are evoking widespread celebration. This development is worrisome. It betrays societal helplessness over the inordinately long judicial process in our country. In 2021, our country had 51,540 cases of murder under investigation by police of which charges were framed in 26,382. In the same year, 2, 48,731 murder cases were under trial in courts, of which conviction was given in 4,304. It is difficult to say when the pending murder cases under trial would be disposed of. The same situation of inordinate delay prevails in respect of Rape cases as well. 

India’s conviction rate continues to be low. While Canada's conviction rate was 62%, Israel's 93%, England's 80%, and America's 90%, India’s stood at 50%. Greater use of scientific techniques in investigation would save time. The process of investigation is slow and tortuous. Disposal in Court continues to be slow. The nexus of criminals and politicians is another serious issue. All these factors contribute to a swell of public resentment giving rise to a craving for summary justice. The growing number of encounter deaths could be a response to the prevailing deficiencies in criminal justice administration. 

The gruesome killing of Atiq and his brother in the presence of the police and with police holding the ropes that were tied to the handcuffs of the siblings is the most bizarre crime that would have happened in the country committed to the Rule of Law. Efficient policing and speedy trials are fundamental tools to ensure citizens’ safety and freedom. India must address these two issues effectively and immediately.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same. The author can be reached at