NEW DELHI: Considering petitions filed by the Peoples Union for Civil Liberties and Citizens Against Hate seeking a probe into the recent spate of police encounters in Uttar Pradesh, Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi today said ‘it is an important issue and will be looked at by the Court very seriously’. The matter was posted to February 12 for hearing.

A public interest litigation was filed by PUCL last July seeking a court-monitored probe into police ‘encounters’ in UP. According to the petition over 1100 such encounters took place in the year prior, in which 49 people were killed and 370 injured.

The petition also refers to UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s reported statement of July 17, 2017 that ‘criminals will be either jailed or killed’ and argues that the state government was encouraging extrajudicial killings.

On January 11, 2019 four UN human rights experts expressed alarm about allegations of at least 59 extrajudicial killings by police in Uttar Pradesh since March 2017.

United Nations human rights experts said they were ‘extremely concerned about the pattern of events: individuals allegedly being abducted or arrested before their killing, and their bodies bearing injuries indicative of torture.’

They said they had ‘sent detailed information to the Indian Government on 15 of the cases, most concerning individuals from Muslim communities living in poverty. The experts have yet to receive a response to their letter.’

They noted that the ‘evidence indicates the killings took place in police custody. In all of the cases, the police said the killings were during encounters and in self-defence.’

‘We have also received allegations of corruption including the police demanding money to release the victim prior to the killing,’ the UN experts added.

They expressed serious concerns about reports that the victims’ family members and human rights defenders working on the cases have been harassed, subjected to death threats from police and had false criminal cases brought against them in apparent attempts to intimidate them.

‘Unfortunately we are continuing to receive reports of other similar cases of killings as well as threats and harassment,’ the experts said. ‘These are extremely serious allegations requiring immediate action.’

They expressed concerns that Supreme Court ‘guidelines’ on investigations were not being followed in the state. This included police failing to inform family members of the killings, to conduct examinations of the scene, to provide copies of post-mortem reports to families, and to transfer cases to an independent investigative agency.

The UN experts called for an urgent review of the use of force by Uttar Pradesh police to ensure all law enforcement operations were conducted in compliance with international standards, for prompt, independent, and thorough investigations into all allegations of potentially unlawful killings, and for perpetrators to be prosecuted.

Earlier today CJI Gogoi informed the parties that he was aware of the statement issued by UN experts.

Appearing for the UP government, senior advocate Mukul Rohtagi countered the allegations, telling the court the government had followed all guidelines issued by the Supreme Court, and that the National Human Rights Commission is investigating these cases.

Advocate Prashant Bhushan informed the court that the NHRC is currently looking into 17 encounter cases. He asked that the NHRC be directed to submit a status report before the apex court. CJI Gogoi said the issue would be considered during the next hearing.