Over-ruling the government’s various contentions, the Supreme Court on Friday asked the Central Bureau of Investigation to set up a team to probe over 90 cases of alleged staged shootouts by security forces in Manipur. “The Director of the Central Bureau of Investigation will nominate a team and inform us of its composition within two weeks, as also any other requirement,” directed a bench of Justice Madan B Lokur and Justice Uday Umesh Lalit.
“These petitions should also be listed positively in the second week of January 2018 to ensure compliance with our directions for investigation by Central Bureau of Investigation,” the court said in its verdict on a plea by the Extra Judicial Execution Victim Families Association (EEVFAM) seeking a SIT probe into the killing of 1,528 persons by the Manipur Police and security forces since 1978.
However, the Association was only able to collect information in 655 cases.
Rejecting the government’s stand that some of these cases are of “considerable vintage and at this point of time it may not be appropriate to re-open the issues for investigation”, Justice Lokur, speaking for the bench, ruled: “If a crime has been committed, a crime which involves the death of a person who is possibly innocent, it cannot be over-looked only because of a lapse of time.”
“Merely because the State has not taken any action and has allowed time to go by, it cannot take advantage of the delay to scuttle an inquiry,” the court said pointing out that it was the state’s obligation to itself conduct a “thorough inquiry” soon after each incident took place.
The court also rejected the government’s argument that since the next of kin of the deceased have not approached the court, it should not entertain a petition filed by a third party.
“Access to justice is certainly a human right … Our constitutional jurisprudence does not permit us to shut the door on such persons and our constitutional obligation requires us to give justice and succour to the next of kin of the deceased,” it said.
The court also rejected the argument that the report were “biased in favour of the citizens and against the State” on account of local pressures and ground situation.
“If there had been a break-down of the rule of law in the state of Manipur, surely the Government of India was under an obligation to take appropriate steps.
“To suggest that all the inquiries were unfair and motivated is casting very serious aspersions on the independence of the authorities in Manipur at that point of time, which we do not think is at all warranted,” it said.
The court also knocked down the argument that as compensation has been paid to next of kin for the “unfortunate deaths”, therefore it may be not necessary to proceed further in the matter.
“We cannot agree. Compensation has been awarded to the next of kin for the agony they have suffered and to enable them to immediately tide over their loss and for their rehabilitation,” it said, stressing compensation cannot override the law of the land, since then “all heinous crimes would get settled through payment of monetary compensation”.
“Our constitutional jurisprudence does not permit this and we certainly cannot encourage or countenance such a view,” the court said underlining that compensation could not be a means to escape accountability to law.
The top court, by its July 8 judgment last year, had said that an allegation of excessive force resulting in the death of any person by police or armed forces in Manipur must be thoroughly enquired into, but left open the decision as to which agency would probe the cases.
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