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12 Feb 2015

The recent chargesheet filed by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) absolving former Hizbul Mujahideen militant, Syed Liaquat Shah, of all charges, has yet again exposed the Special Cell of the Delhi Police for planting false evidence and for framing Shah. Shah had been arrested by the Delhi Police on March 20, 2013 on grounds that he intended to launch a fidayeen or suicide attack in Delhi. A 'recovery' of a cache of arms, ammunition and explosives from a guest house near Jama Masjid (where allegedly Shah was planning to visit) was presented as evidence. He had been charged under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 1967 (UAPA) and sections of the IPC including waging war against the State. The Centre ordered for an impartial probe by the NIA in the matter as there were conflicting positions emerging from the Delhi Police and the J&K Police. It was stated by J&K Police that Liaquat Shah was returning to Kashmir in order to surrender under J&K’s rehabilitation policy. The NIA has now found that these arms were in fact placed there by Sabir Khan Pathan, an informer of the Special Cell working under the express orders of the Special Cell officials. 

While the chargesheet names several officers and personnel of the Special Cell such as DCP Sanjeev Yadav, Inspectors Sanjay Dutt and Rahul Kumar, and Head Constables Manish, Mohd. Iqbal Dar and Gulvir Singh as being involved, the NIA in its report to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) in January 2015 demanded departmental inquiry against all but the name of the DCP has been dropped. Moreover, though names of police officers involved have been mentioned in the chargesheet for being in touch with the informer Sabir Khan Pathan on 20-21 March 2013, only the informer has been named as the main accused. The NIA has also failed to indict the senior officials including the police commissioner who had all insisted that they had 'evidence' against Shah. It is vital that command responsibility be established in such cases rather than letting the higher officials escape punishment. Additionally, the NIA has also not explained where from did the cache of arms and explosives recovered from the guest house actually emerge. In response, the MHA had said that it would take ‘tough action’ against the officials if required. Reacting to this, the Delhi Police has now called upon the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and the MHA arguing that any action would have a ‘demoralising’ impact on the officers involved in counter-terror operations. A senior police official has also reportedly said that it is a ‘bonafide case of mistaken identity’ and not of any wrong or malafide intent and whatever they did was done in the best interest of ‘national security’.

It should be noted that this is not the first time that the Special Cell is being indicted by another investigative agency. In 2008, in the case of State v. Maurif Qamar and Md. Irshad Ali, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) had submitted a closure report in the court of the Additional Session Judge in which it was clearly mentioned that the two accused (who were special cell informers earlier) were innocent and falsely implicated as dreaded terrorists in the case by the Special Cell which had fabricated and planted evidence. The CBI had also recommended that legal action be taken against the officials involved. Again, it need not be reminded that it was the Special Cell which was involved in the Batla House encounter case which has been widely criticized as a staged one.

PUDR's findings in the past also show that the Special Cell has been a 'habitual offender' when it comes to faking encounters or in acts of planting evidence or falsely implicating people and routinely subverting justice in a number of important investigations it has undertaken. However, in the absence of any independent investigation, these crimes by Special Cell personnel have not been not brought to light, unlike as in the Liaquat Shah’s case has been. 

A few instances would show this long lineage of crimes by the Special Cell. The case against Mohd. Arif, accused in the Red Fort attack case in the year 2000, for instance, rests mainly on the supposed 'recovery' by Special Cell official M.C. Sharma and his team, of a slip of paper bearing a mobile number which belonged to the accused. Despite contradictory statements in court by different Special Cell officers about the timing of their so called 'recovery', this 'evidence' was used to charge Arif with the crime and award him the death sentence. He is presently awaiting execution in this case. 

Even in the 2001 Parliament Attack case, the case hinged on the Special Cell's investigation on these kinds of alleged 'recovery' of slips of paper with phone numbers, mobile phones and sim cards from the dead (terrorists). These were then used to implicate a number of people who were arrested, tried and, in one case, later executed. Doubts about the authenticity of sim cards and allegations that they had been cloned and call records altered were raised at the time. The fact that the investigation methods of the Special Cell were a combination of extracting 'confessions' and 'recovery' of evidence was criticized and suspicion that this evidence was planted and doctored were raised at the time. 

Another case in point was the picking up and killing of Rafiq, a resident of Sikandrabad, Uttar Pradesh in August 2003 as a 'dreaded terrorist' in the so called 'Millenium Park encounter’. In this case also, which was investigated in detail in 2004 by PUCL and PUDR (See:, there were no independent eye witnesses and ‘recovery’ of detonators and money was shown on the basis of which Rafiq’s brothers were also charged under serious offences. In October 2003, the Special Cell came under cloud for its role in the Ansal Plaza ‘encounter’ when an eyewitness came forward to expose the cold blooded killing.

The Special Cell of the Delhi Police has enjoyed impunity despite its consistent violation of rights and subversion of justice because of the protection given to it by draconian anti-terror laws like the erstwhile POTA and, especially, the present UAPA. While S. 58 had been added to POTA, allowing punishment for 'malicious action' by the police under this law after large scale institution of false cases by the police under anti-terror laws, the UAPA has excluded this clause cementing the impunity of police and protecting the 'Special' status of the police even when they commit heinous crimes.

Finally, as is indicated in the above mentioned cases, violations have been fearlessly committed by State personnel in the name of ‘national security’ and ‘fighting terrorism’. These labels help absolve officials from any kind of accountability even while the crimes committed are serious in nature, involving fabrication of evidence and false implication of persons—sometimes also leading the accused onto the death row.

PUDR demands that the guilty personnel of the Special Cell, including commanding officials, be immediately charged, prosecuted and punished in the Liaquat Shah’s false arrest case, and not be shielded by laws like the UAPA despite committing grave crimes. PUDR also demands that action be taken against higher officials of the Delhi Police who defended the Special Cell and supported the 'evidence' against Shah.

Megha Bahl and Sharmila Purkayastha