Gujarat Police Encounters | Day 4: Gujarat government accuses petitioners of “selective public interest”Gujarat Police Encounters
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta and Additional Solicitor General S.V. Raju appeared for the Gujarat government.
Senior Advocate Nitya Ramakrishnan and Advocate Prashant Bhushan appeared for the petitioners. They argued that the Court should prosecute police personnel identified under the Justice H.S. Bedi report.
In 2012, the Supreme Court appointed the retired judge as the head of a Special Task Force to investigate the alleged fake encounters. In 2018, the report was submitted to the Supreme Court in a sealed cover.
In 2007, three individuals – Javed Akhtar (poet), Sabnam Hasmi (social activist) and BS Verghese (veteran journalist) filed criminal Writ Petitions before the Supreme Court, requesting a judicial probe into 24 police encounters between 2002 and 2006.
In 2012, the Supreme Court formed a committee headed by Retired Supreme Court Justice H.S. Bedi to monitor the probe into the alleged fake police encounters by the Gujarat police. Many senior Gujarat politicians and police officials are under suspicion for their involvement.
The Court asked the Committee to examine if the encounters showed a pattern of accusing members of minority communities of being terrorists.
After several extensions, the H.S. Bedi Committee submitted its Report in a sealed cover in March 2018. The Committee did not investigate 5 cases including Shorabuddin Sheikh and Ishrat Jahan as these matters are sub-judice.
On December 2nd 2018, the Court ordered the State of Gujarat to file its reply to the H.S. Bedi Committee report by December 12th 2018. On December 3rd, Mr. Tushar Mehta appearing for the State of Gujarat had requested the Court to not make the Report public owing to its sensitive content. The Court on January 9th 2019, denied this request and ordered that copies of the Bedi Committee report be given to the petitioners and the State of Gujarat.
Mehta: “Selective Public Interest” by petitioners
Mehta contended that the petitioners were taking a special interest in a few encounters that took place during a particular period in Gujarat. He claimed that “fake encounters are taking place all over the country” as per National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) data. Justice Mehta immediately interjected. He stated that the Solicitor acknowledged that fake encounters do take place. To this, Mehta replied that he could not contest NHRC data.
Mehta stated that “hundred plus” similar encounters occurred in states like Bihar and Maharashtra each year but the petitioners “who have nothing to do with Gujarat” approached the Supreme Court only about encounters in Gujarat. Ramakrishnan interrupted accusing Mehta of making personal comments. “I have to” Mehta replied.
Mehta then argued that the petitioners would have to justify their “selective public interest” only in Gujarat and objected to sharing details of the Justice HS Bedi report with them. This includes detailed statements and evidence collected by the task force. He reasoned that this was not a common practice under the Code of Criminal Procedure jurisprudence to do so. Mehta suggested that if such details are shared with the petitioners, then the personnel identified in the report should be heard first. Justice Mehta dismissed this suggestion. The newly appointed judge reasoned that the pre-cognizance hearing of the accused is an alien concept in criminal law. Mehta replied that there are several precedents to suggest otherwise.
Petitioners: Prosecute persons identified under Justice HS Bedi’s report
Ramakrishnan submitted that the Special Task Force headed by Justice H.S. Bedi had identified the police’s fault in three out of 21 cases. “This has to face trial,” she said. Adding to this, Bhushan suggested that the Court should also appoint a special public prosecutor for the identified police personnel.
Brushing aside Mehta’s arguments about the petitioner’s intentions, Ramakrishnan pointed out that a task force was already set up to investigate the issue. So, it did not matter why they were approaching the Court for encounters in Gujarat. “It is water under the bridge,” she said.
Additionally, she pointed out that the Supreme Court itself set up the task force for probing into the alleged fake encounters. She urged the Bench to focus on the findings of the report rather than venture into questions posed by Mehta. “The entire exercise cannot be meaningless,” she said.
The case will be heard again on 1 February 2024