UP police change approach to encounters, opt to fire at legs

Police stand guard in Ayodhya on Saturday November 24.(HT File Photo/ Representative Image)

In the last four months, there were 29 such half-encounters in Kanpur. In all of them, criminals were shot in the leg at an almost identical spot, between the knees and the ankle, according to medical reports of the injured and photographs seen by HT.

Twenty-nine alleged criminals have been shot in their legs at almost identical spots, between the knees and ankles, in Uttar Pradesh’s Kanpur over the last four months. HT has seen the medical reports and photographs in connection with 24 such cases.

A police officer familiar with the matter said alleged criminals are now being shot below their abdomens, preferably in the legs, under a new tactic that has come to be known as so-called “halfencounters”. The tactic appears to have been adopted to counter criticism that the police have faced over a spate of alleged extrajudicial killing of criminals since 2017.

Shooting below abdomen is part of the standard operating procedure adopted in situations wherein criminals may be shooting at police. Activists say it is difficult to determine whether the “half-encounters” have been even carried in non-threatening situations as most of these incidents have taken place between midnight and 4am.

An alleged criminal was last week taken to a pre-decided point marked with “crime scene, do not cross” warning tapes in Kanpur before he was shot at and taken to a hospital in the middle of the night, according to another police officer aware of the incident.

Gautam Buddh Nagar tops the list of the so-called “half-encounters” with 120 such cases. Most of them have been mostly reported in the last few months, according to police officers aware of these incidents. Meerut has the highest number of “half-encounters” – 255 – among police zones. Meerut district accounted for 79 “half-encounters” while 66 such cases were reported from Ghaziabad, Allahabad, Lucknow, Gorakhpur, Varanasi, and Agra.

A police constable shot dead Apple manager Vivek Tiwari in Lucknow in October.

The killing was the latest in a series of extrajudicial killings, which prompted calls for police reform. A month before Tiwari’s killing, police had in September invited journalists to film a “shootout” with two armed men, who were later shot dead in Aligarh.

Scores of alleged criminals have been killed since Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath launched a “zero-tolerance” fight against criminals after taking office in March 2017.

Top police officers refused to speak on the record, but said on condition of anonymity that they were trying to discourage tactics like “half-encounters”. Such tactics of dealing with alleged criminals seem to be gaining currency, they added. “This… has robbed the crime-fighting efforts of their seriousness. The Uttar Pradesh police are becoming a laughing stock,” said an inspector-general rank officer, who did not wish to be named.

The crackdown on alleged criminals has raised questions particularly since many of them having been killed in an identical fashion in the state’s 24 districts. The police have taken flak for the contents of First Information Reports (FIRs) filed in such cases, their timing and the setting of the “shootouts”. The FIRs have been found to be strikingly similar in all such cases.

NGO Rihai Manch examined the FIRs and took the matter to the NHRC regarding 17 alleged extrajudicial killing cases. Rajeev Yadav, the NGO’s convener, said the circumstances, the settings, and FIRs strengthen suspicions that they were indeed extrajudicial killings. “The half encounters, which are suddenly happening across the state, are staged,’’ he said.

The National Human Rights Commission’s decision in May to investigate 17 killings put the police on the defensive. The Supreme Court, too, agreed on January 14 to examine in detail “on the earliest possible date” a plea seeking a court-monitored probe into the alleged extrajudicial killings.

Officials said district police chiefs became wary after this development and the “full-encounter [extra-judicial killing]” rate dropped in the state. And soon “half-encounters” were resorted to, they added.

“The police leadership is well aware of this fact. It nullifies the well-thought-out strategy of arresting hardened criminals. The police superintendents are being given the necessary guidelines to keep their personnel under check,” said a police officer.

Former police inspector general Vijay Shankar Singh said no matter what the thought process is at the top, the men in the field find “half-encounters” an easy way to appease their bosses. He added that this negated the legal trouble that a “full-encounter” could bring.

A Ghaziabad-based rights activist, Rajiv Sharma, said such “half-encounters” have a high rate because they help prevent an outcry. “Any hardened criminal considers himself lucky to have a bullet in a leg rather than in the head. So, he or his family never challenges a half-encounter. In a half-encounter, the policemen do not face the inquiries that they do in a full-encounter,” he said. “Also such encounters give out the message that police are acting tough.”

Inspector general (Allahabad) Mohit Agarwal insisted the priority is always to arrest alleged criminals without causing any physical harm. “Many times, criminals open fire on policemen, causing a gunfight,’’ he said. “Not only criminals but even policemen have also received injuries in encounters.”

Opposition Samajwadi Party lawmaker, Sunil Singh Sajan, called the “half-encounters” a charade. “Everyone knows encounters are part of the state policy and the chief minister himself has been seen encouraging policemen with the ‘thok do’ [kill them] line.”

Source: Hindustan Times

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