Staged shootouts appear to be a shortcut to promotions, bribes and fawning publicity for some Uttar Pradesh police officers, if not all, as the number of people killed in police encounters climbed to over 60 under the Yogi Adityanath government, an India Today TV investigation has found.
According to official data, nearly 400 people have been injured in around 1,500 police encounters that have taken place since March 2017.
India Today TV’s special investigation team has found that some members of the state police force could be implicating innocent civilians in false cases and shooting them down in staged confrontations in exchange for bribes and promotions.
In the Agra zone, which has accounted for 241 encounters since the Bharatiya Janata Party government took charge in Uttar Pradesh last year, a sub-inspector of the local Chitra Hat police station offered to gun down an innocent civilian for around Rs 8 lakh.
This, after India Today TV’s reporters, posing as businessmen, approached him about framing a fictitious competitor in a bogus case. This is how the conversation proceeded:
“The problem that you are facing has only one solution. By chance, I have two-three banks under my jurisdiction. If any incident happens, I will involve (implicate) him into it,” sub-inspector Sarvesh Kumar told the undercover journalists.
“And he can be involved (implicated) to a great extent into it. He could be injured and could also lose his life,” Kumar added.
The sub-inspector explained the plan: planting evidence against the fictitious character in a bank robbery, naming him subsequently as accused from the list of unknown suspects and shooting him down in a so-called encounter.
“Robberies keep happening. It could happen in my area, in Jaitpur or in Bah. I am speaking about myself. I am responsible for the three police stations. I can set them up,” Kumar claimed.
“See, that man will not be involved in any bank robbery,” the reporter countered.
“He won’t be but will be named subsequently in the list of unknown suspects. That’s the police job. He must be having some ID. That ID will be brought in. That ID proof will (eventually) be shown as recovered from the scene of the crime (robbery),” Kumar replied.
“Ok,” the reporter nodded.
“He can lose his life or can be injured,” Kumar continued. “In my area for instance, the price is Rs 5-6 lakh. In other areas, we’ll have to speak to other people. So, two lakh can be additional. Not more than that,” the police official said.
Kumar brazenly guaranteed that the target would be eliminated.
“There’s no chance of survival. If someone is my target, what’s the chance for him to survive?” Kumar boasted. “Nothing is put on the record even if it’s an arrest. When the shooting is done out in the open, there’s no chance of survival.”
NOT ALL ENCOUNTERS FAKE
India Today TV’s probe doesn’t suggest that all police encounters under the Yogi government are fake, but Kumar’s admissions suggested that some of the encounters could have been staged to kill suspects in detention.
“That’s a fact that they (targets) are brought from some other locations,” Kumar claimed.
“You mean they are caught and killed?” asked the reporter.
“Whether we bring them ourselves or via some other medium, someone (the target) is taken or lured into some specific location for a meeting. We have our men in place… Done,” the SI said.
Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has consistently refuted accusations his state police are framing innocent people.
“Police or administration don’t kill any innocent person. They cannot. But if someone fires at the police, the police can fire back in self defence,” he told India Today TV in May. “What I can say is that my government will never discriminate with anyone on the basis of caste, religion or gender. Every citizen will be guaranteed safety and every citizen will be provided opportunities for development.”
But the reality could sinister in some instances.
At the local police station in Basai Jagner, a rural neighborhood of Agra district, station officer Jagdamba Singh acknowledged that the temptation of promotions was encouraging some trigger-happy police officials to hold fake encounters in the state.
“One can do anything for this charge of a station officer. Killing, bribing, anything can be done for this post,” the SO claimed.
He alleged that extrajudicial killings and power abuse are common in Uttar Pradesh.
“Imagine how influential the media is today. Still, encounters are happening. There’s no more powerful police force in India than U.P.’s. We are the best, like the Kabul steed,” the SO bragged. “The hands and feet are tied and the face is covered. We still kick and bite. We kill. We do whatever we want to. We are the most powerful police force in India.”
‘TOP OFFICER IN THE KNOW’
Singh contradicted his department’s official claims that every encounter happens instantly.
He also alleged that district police chiefs might be in the know of potential encounters in some instances. “Who all take part in an encounter? Constables, inspectors. That’s it. But nothing happens without the consent of the captain (SSPs).”
At the same police station, sub-inspector Balbir Singh sounded desperate for a transfer to a city jurisdiction.
“If it’s a chowki in a city area, it’s okay. Otherwise, there’s no benefit. If I am posted at a police station and the inspector sends me to a chowki, the man in charge there would take all the money (bribes). He’ll be the decision-maker of everything,” Balbir Singh said in a glaring reflection of chronic corruption in the Uttar Pradesh police.
He was ready to stage an encounter in exchange for his urban posting.
“We’ll look into an encounter when I get to the city. It’s doable. Catch him (the target) in the city. It can be planned,” Singh said.
“So will he (the target) be caught and killed?” asked the reporter.
“Yes,” the police official answered. “A plan has to be worked out after catching him. It will be kept secret. Nobody would come to know about it. That’s how these things are done.”
Balbir Singh also advised the undercover reporters to hire contract criminals for murders. “If you want to execute this, you can also meet professional shooters. There are many of them around.”
The state’s top police brass acted swiftly on India Today’s investigation.
Agra SSP Amit Pathak announced an immediate suspension of the three police officials caught on tape willing to stage shootouts of innocent civilians.
“I believe anyone in the police force goes against work ethics for his own vested interests and tries to implicate innocents in false cases should be dealt with sternly,” Pathak said.
Sanjay Hegde, SC advocate and constitutional expert, said, “We have to look whether the police officer in question has been part of any encounters. The police are competent enough to at least take disciplinary action in such cases.
Vikram Singh, Former DGP, UP said, “This is like being a contract killer or paid assassin and the police officer should be fired immediately. Rule of law should be respected.”
Ghanshyam Tiwari, national spokesperson, SP said, “BJP is all about propaganda. Encounters make for good headlines for Yogi. He has promoted a system of trigger-happy cops. All kinds of crimes have risen in UP. The whole justice system should be overhauled.”
Narendra Taneja, National Spokesperson, BJP, “There was a complete gunda raj in UP before the Yogi government. BJP is just trying to tighten the noose on the gangsters. We are appalled to see the police officer’s behaviour and such people are a taint on the khakhi uniform. There will be inquiry and action will be taken against the police officer.”