“This Court has repeatedly admonished trigger-happy police personnel, who liquidate criminals and project the incident as an encounter. Such killings must be deprecated. They are not recognised as legal by our criminal justice administration system. They amount to State-sponsored terrorism.”
The Supreme Court of India had the occasion to lay down guidelines on encounter in the case of ‘People’s Union for Civil Liberties v. UOI (2014)’.
Writ petitions were filed by People’s Union for Civil Liberties (for short, “PUCL”) before the Bombay High Court, in which the issue of genuineness or otherwise of nearly 99 encounters between the Mumbai police and the alleged criminals resulting in death of about 135 persons between 1995 and 1997 was raised.
In these writ petitions, among other prayers there a directing the State Government to frame appropriate guidelines governing planning and carrying out encounters for the purpose of protection of life and liberty guaranteed under Article 21 read with Article 14 of the Constitution of India.
In the case, the High court laid down certain guidelines but PUCL was not satisfied with these guidelines, therefore, they filed SLPs to Supreme Court against these writ petitions.
Analysis by the court
While considering the matter of the court in this case was as follows-
- Article 21 of the Constitution of India guarantees “right to live with human dignity”. Any violation of human rights is viewed seriously by this Court as right to life is the most precious right guaranteed by Article 21 of the Constitution. The guarantee by Article 21 is available to every person and even the State has no authority to violate that right.
- This Court has repeatedly admonished trigger-happy police personnel, who liquidate criminals and project the incident as an encounter. Such killings must be deprecated. They are not recognised as legal by our criminal justice administration system. They amount to State-sponsored terrorism.
- But, one cannot be oblivious of the fact that there are cases where the police, who are performing their duty, are attacked and killed. There is a rise in such incidents and judicial notice must be taken of this fact. In such circumstances, while the police have to do their legal duty of arresting the criminals, they have also to protect themselves. The requirement of sanction to prosecute affords protection to the policemen, who are sometimes required to take drastic action against criminals to protect life and property of the people and to protect themselves against attack.
Unless unimpeachable evidence is on record to establish that their action is indefensible, mala fide and vindictive, they cannot be subjected to prosecution. Sanction must be a precondition to their prosecution. It affords necessary protection to such police personnel. The plea regarding sanction can be raised at the inception.
Guidelines laid down by the Court
Receiving of information-
(1) Whenever the police is in receipt of any intelligence or tip-off regarding criminal movements or activities pertaining to the commission of grave criminal offence, it shall be reduced into writing in some form (preferably into case diary) or in some electronic form.
Such recording need not reveal details of the suspect or the location to which the party is headed. If such intelligence or tip-off is received by a higher authority, the same may be noted in some form without revealing details of the suspect or the location.
FIR after encounter-
(2) If pursuant to the tip-off or receipt of any intelligence, as above, encounter takes place and firearm is used by the police party and as a result of that, death occurs, an FIR to that effect shall be registered and the same shall be forwarded to the court under Section 157 of the Code without any delay.
While forwarding the report under Section 157 of the Code, the procedure prescribed under Section 158 of the Code shall be followed.
Independent Investigation of Encounter-
(3) An independent investigation into the incident/encounter shall be conducted by the CID or police team of another police station under the supervision of a senior officer (at least a level above the head of the police party engaged in the encounter). The team conducting inquiry/investigation shall, at a minimum, seek:
(a) To identify the victim; colour photographs of the victim should be taken;
(b) To recover and preserve evidentiary material, including blood-stained earth, hair, fibres and threads, etc., related to the death;
(c) To identify scene witnesses with complete names, addresses and telephone numbers and obtain their statements (including the statements of police personnel involved) concerning the death;
(d) To determine the cause, manner, location (including preparation of rough sketch of topography of the scene and, if possible, photo/video of the scene and any physical evidence) and time of death as well as any pattern or practice that may have brought about the death;
(e) It must be ensured that intact fingerprints of deceased are sent for chemical analysis. Any other fingerprints should be located, developed, lifted and sent for chemical analysis;
(f) Post-mortem must be conducted by two doctors in the District Hospital, one of them, as far as possible, should be In-charge/Head of the District Hospital. Post-mortem shall be video-graphed and preserved;
(g) Any evidence of weapons, such as guns, projectiles, bullets and cartridge cases, should be taken and preserved. Wherever applicable, tests for gunshot residue and trace metal detection should be performed.
(h) The cause of death should be found out, whether it was natural death, accidental death, suicide or homicide.
(4) A Magisterial inquiry under Section 176 of the Code must invariably be held in all cases of death which occur in the course of police firing and a report thereof must be sent to Judicial Magistrate having jurisdiction under Section 190 of the Code.
Involvement of NHRC-
(5) The involvement of NHRC is not necessary unless there is serious doubt about independent and impartial investigation. However, the information of the incident without any delay must be sent to NHRC or the State Human Rights Commission, as the case may be.
(6) The injured criminal/victim should be provided medical aid and his/her statement recorded by the Magistrate or Medical Officer with certificate of fitness.
Information and Report to the Court-
(7) It should be ensured that there is no delay in sending FIR, diary entries, panchnamas, sketch, etc., to the concerned Court.
(8) After full investigation into the incident, the report should be sent to the competent court under Section 173 of the Code. The trial, pursuant to the chargesheet submitted by the Investigating Officer, must be concluded expeditiously.
Information of death to next of kin-
(9) In the event of death, the next of kin of the alleged criminal/victim must be informed at the earliest.
Report to NHRC-
(10) Six monthly statements of all cases where deaths have occurred in police firing must be sent to NHRC by DGPs. It must be ensured that the six monthly statements reach to NHRC by 15th day of January and July, respectively.
The statements may be sent in the following format along with post mortem, inquest and, wherever available, the inquiry reports:
(i) Date and place of occurrence.
(ii) Police Station, District.
(iii) Circumstances leading to deaths: (a) Self defence in encounter. (b) In the course of dispersal of unlawful assembly. (c) In the course of affecting arrest.
(iv) Brief facts of the incident.
(v) Criminal Case No.
(vi) Investigating Agency.
(vii) Findings of the Magisterial Inquiry/Inquiry by Senior Officers: (a) disclosing, in particular, names and designation of police officials, if found responsible for the death; and (b) whether use of force was justified and action taken was lawful.
(11) If on the conclusion of investigation the materials/evidence having come on record show that death had occurred by use of firearm amounting to offence under the IPC, disciplinary action against such officer must be promptly initiated and he be placed under suspension.
Compensation to victim-
(12) As regards compensation to be granted to the dependants of the victim who suffered death in a police encounter, the scheme provided under Section 357-A of the Code must be applied.
(13) The police officer(s) concerned must surrender his/her weapons for forensic and ballistic analysis, including any other material, as required by the investigating team, subject to the rights under Article 20 of the Constitution.
(14) An intimation about the incident must also be sent to the police officer’s family and should the family need services of a lawyer / counselling, same must be offered.
No Promotion to Police Officers-
(15) No out-of-turn promotion or instant gallantry rewards shall be bestowed on the concerned officers soon after the occurrence. It must be ensured at all costs that such rewards are given/recommended only when the gallantry of the concerned officers is established beyond doubt.
Complaint to Session Judge-
(16) If the family of the victim finds that the above procedure has not been followed or there exists a pattern of abuse or lack of independent investigation or impartiality by any of the functionaries as above mentioned, it may make a complaint to the Sessions Judge having territorial jurisdiction over the place of incident. Upon such complaint being made, the concerned Sessions Judge shall look into the merits of the complaint and address the grievances raised therein.
PUCL v. State of Maharashtra (2014)