‘Encounter’ killing of SIMI activists near Bhopal: questions still remain unanswered

The so-called encounter killing of eight SIMI operatives in the morning of October 31, 2016 near Bhopal has been raising questions which the BJP government of Shivraj Singh Chouhan does not know how to answer. The Judicial Commission of Inquiry merely repeated in its report what the police and jail officials have been claiming. It is difficult to imagine that a retired High Court judge could be so blatantly dishonest in conducting the inquiry into a sensitive matter.

The Bhopal Central Jail is designed with high security features and those accused of terrorism or other brutal crimes are shifted here from other jails in the State. In October 2016 the jail had around 30 SIMI activists – some convicted and some under trial. Eight of them ‘escaped’ from the jail in the early hours of October 31 (2016) and were gunned down in what the police claimed an encounter some ten kilometres away from the jail a few hours later. Seven of them were under-trials and one was a convict. Bhopal Zone IG police Yogesh Chaudhary announced: ‘when we located them, they fired on us and all eight of them were killed in the encounter’. Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS) chief Sanjeev Shami, however, claimed that all eight SIMI suspects were unarmed. Sanjeev Shami had led the firing squad in the ‘encounter’. The activists were identified as Amzad, Zakir Hussain Sadiq, Mohammad Salik, Mujeeb Shaikh, Mehboob Guddu, Mohammad Khalid Ahmed, Aqeel and Majid. They were said to have killed jail warder Ramashankar Yadav before ‘escaping’.

It appears that some ‘agency’ in the State planned the escape-cum-encounter incident. In any case, the whole operation was clumsily planned and the Chief Minister, the State’s Home Minister and various police officers were hard put to explain the operation. First, it was claimed that the eight SIMI activists had made a rope of bed sheets to climb the wall of the jail and climb down on the other side. This theory did not last long. It is a nearly 35-ft high steep wall without any nails to hook the rope or bedsheet. For a similar reason, the other theory also fell flat that they rode each other’s shoulder pyramid-wise to climb up and climb down the wall. Besides, there are watch towers atop jail roof and the entire jail campus is covered by several layers of security. All the eight escapees were wearing new clothes and new shoes as later was visible in the pictures and videos of the scene of ‘encounter’.

From various accounts gathered from official and non-official (but relevant) sources, something of the following had emerged about the entire incident: the escapees were given new clothes and shoes on Diwali and were told that they would be shifted to Indore in the night. They were taken out of jail and released near Acharpur hillock, some 10 km away from Bhopal. Around six in the morning of October 31, Mohan Singh Meena, Sarpanch of Khejdadev village, was visited by two policemen who told him that eight dreaded terrorists had escaped from Bhopal Central Jail and they were hiding somewhere around and that he and others in the village should be on a lookout for them. Meena, accompanied by a few village men, went to his fields an hour or so later and spotted eight persons lurking near the hillock. On his mobile, he informed the Gandhinagar police station about the presence of ‘escaped terrorists’ in his fields. Within five to ten minutes, the entire police force was there gunning the eight down even as the videos showed one of them begging for mercy.

Following the public outcry, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan ordered a judicial inquiry. Retired High Court judge S K Pandey was assigned the task. He has submitted one of the most dishonest inquiry reports I have seen. He not only repeated the version of police and jail officials but even improved upon their versions about the ‘escape’ and murder of the SIMI activists in the name of encounter. This RSS sympathiser retired High Court judge conveniently ignored the affidavits of others including the family members of the killed persons.

Meanwhile, Association of Protection of Civil Rights of New Delhi has been waiting for the last 19 months for the Madhya Pradesh government reply to some questions sought under the RTI Act. The first application was submitted on December 1, 2016 and the first appeal was made after waiting for 50 days (instead of 30 days as stipulated in the Act). According to Mushifaq Raza Khan, who had moved the application/appeal on behalf of the Association, the Madhya Pradesh government has not refused the information sought but has been using delaying tactics under one pretext or the other.

The following are the queries to which the Association has sought the replies:

1. At the time of the encounter on 31.10.2016, who were the police officers and policemen given this assignment? Please supply their names.
2. Give particulars of arms/weapons they were carrying.
3. Give the number of cartridges supplied to each of these officers/jawans.
4. Give details of the cartridges used by these officers/jawans.
5. Give the number of unused cartridges returned by them.
6. Was a panchnama made about the eight alleged SIMI activists killed? Supply a copy thereof.
7. Supply the authenticated copies of reports of post mortem examination conducted on the eight alleged SIMI activists as well as of Head Constable Rama Shankar who was killed in the jail.
8. Give details of vehicles used by these officers/jawans to reach the site of incident.
9. Supply the names of villagers who were present at the site and helped the police.
10. What injuries the policeman suffered at the site of the encounter? Supply a copy of his medical report.
11. If an FIR/Roznamcha was registered about these injuries, supply an authenticated copy thereof.
12. Supply copies of the entries made in the Roznamcha by all police officers/policemen who participated in encounter.
13. Supply an authenticated copy of the FIR/Roznamcha recorded before the police party left for the site of incident.
14. Supply an authenticated copy of the map of the site of incident.
15. Who had given the order to the police to open fire in this encounter?

N D Sharma

is a senior journalist, and Patron of eNewsroom India.

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