By Probir Pramanik
Mumbai : Stung by nationwide criticism over staged shootouts to check terrorism and crime, the Maharashtra government has decided to rope in the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) to probe the so-called 'encounter killings' in the state.
While Mumbai's sharpshooters, credited with checking the underworld gang wars and random shootings in the city, are miffed with the new move, human rights activists have welcomed it though with a few reservations.
"The government has decided that any police encounter killings that take place in the state from now on will be investigated by the CID," states a Maharashtra Home Department circular issued to the state director General of police and the Mumbai police commissioner.
The circular released Thursday assumes significance as over 800 staged encounters have been recorded in Mumbai alone in the last 10 years – many of them controversial in nature.
Confirming the receipt of the circular, Mumbai Police Commissioner D.N. Jadhav told IANS: "This circular says that every police encounter henceforth will be suo moto investigated by the state CID.
"All the concerned officers will soon be issued copies of the circular soon."
But this order almost sounds the death knell to a small, tightly-knit group of policemen, who were given much credit for cleaning up crime in India's financial and entertainment capital.
In the early 1980s, Mumbai was virtually ruled by organised criminal gangs. Extortions, random shootings and killings had turned the city into India's crime capital too.
The fabled and, sometimes notorious, sharpshooters of Mumbai Police, known in local parlance as 'encounter specialists', have killed several wanted gangsters by staging shootouts.
Many of these special policemen have over 80 encounters to their individual credit.
While they once enjoyed unlimited power, they soon fell out of favour mostly because of their own doing, with allegations of links with the underworld surfacing against them.
Many of these officers, responsible for bringing the gang war under control, have been sidelined or are under suspension.
"With this order, we can safely assume that henceforth there will no encounter in Mumbai," said an encounter specialist on conditions of anonymity.
"Why should any police officer go for an encounter and then face the agony of a probe after it? Definitely no one would want to be involved with an encounter henceforth," said the officer, who was once part of the special police team that broke the back of Mumbai's notorious crime syndicates.
Though human rights groups have welcomed the move, they are not too convinced about its implementation. "One needs to wait and watch if the move is implemented in the true spirit," said P.A. Sabastian, president of the Committee for the Protection of Democratic Rights.
"Over 800 suspected criminals are alleged to have been shot in cold blood in so-called 'encounters' with the police," he pointed out.
"Whenever an encounter takes place, it should be investigated by a judicial authority and not by a police unit like the CID," he said.
"It doesn't solve the problem unless the police officer or the team of officers involved in an encounter killing are charged with culpable homicide," said Sabastian, who is also a senior criminal lawyer.