PUDR notes with deep concern the news report regarding the encounter killing of 5 under-trial prisoners near Alair in Nalgonda district, Telengana on 7th April 2015. The incident occurred on a busy highway in the middle of the morning when the prisoners were being taken from Warangal jail to a Hyderabad court. According to IGP Warangal, Naveen Chand, the police convoy of three vehicles made an unscheduled halt at the request of under-trial prisoner, Vikaruddin Ahmed. With his handcuffs off, Vikaruddin allegedly snatched an AK 56 rifle from Reserve Sub-Inspector, Uday Bhaskar and the remaining four prisoners, Mohd. Zakir, Mohd. Hanif, Sayed Amjad, and Izhar Khan pounced on two other policemen. In retaliation, the other policemen, 17 in all, shot all five dead inside the van. Later in the afternoon, the bodies were shifted to the Area Hospital, Jangaon in Warangal district for post mortem. The DGP Telengana has stated that an inquiry by an executive magistrate and a judicial inquiry have been ordered into the incident as per the Supreme Court’s guidelines in the recent judgment, PUCL vs. State of Maharashtra, 2014.
The ‘encounter’ raises some very disturbing questions:
- There is no other account other than that of the police. It is the police’s claim that the under-trial prisoners were trying to escape and overawe the men in uniform.
- Even if one accepts the police version, how is it possible that 17 armed policemen could not overpower 5 under-trial prisoners who were unarmed and were in the custody of the police?
- No policeman has been injured or killed in the shoot-out.
- Even while the Telengana DGP, Anurag Sharma has said that there was no link between this incident and the encounter killings of four security personnel in two different incidents in Nalgonda district recently, the cold-blooded killings of under-trial prisoners seem nothing more than revenge action.
- The revenge theory has more of a basis as Vikaruddin Ahmed has been described as a ‘dangerous accused’ belonging to the banned organization, SIMI and had allegedly opened fire on police surveillance teams in 2008 and 2009 in Hyderabad and killed a constable in 2010. Once in custody, in July 2010, Vikaruddin allegedly confessed to how he had floated a front organization, Tahreek-Ghalba-e-Islam (TGI) with the sole aim of taking revenge on police personnel involved in the firing on Muslim youth in the Mecca Masjid blasts of 2007. Significantly, the other four men who were also murdered in the police van were Vikar’s associates.
- The sudden spurt of police action against alleged SIMI activists in Nalgonda district comes shortly after the Home Minister claimed that the banned organization had “emerged as a major security challenge” and that 5 of its members who had escaped from Khandwa jail in 2013 still remained at large. Needless to say two of them were shot dead on 2nd April in Nalgonda. In this context, the murders of these 5 under-trial prisoners assume greater and graver concerns as they demonstrate the police’s power to kill with impunity.
PUDR strongly condemns the murder of the 5 under-trial prisoners and demands immediate arrest and suspension of all police personnel who were present in the van. PUDR demands that the Telengana police chief take responsibility for these murders and explain how they have passed them off as ‘retaliatory’ killings. PUDR also wishes to point out to the Home Minister that when custodians of law turn into licensed killers, then they pose a far greater challenge to the country than those who can be banned under draconian legislations and easily killed inside police vans.
Megha Bahl, Sharmila Purkayastha