Vikas Dubey, “Kanpur wala” as he called himself emerging from an Ujjain temple and surrendering in full public view, was killed in an “encounter” by U.P Police – allegedly after he snatched a gun from one of the policemen and tried to escape after the car carrying them overturned near Kanpur. Vikas, who was not handcuffed, suffered 4 gunshot wounds, 3 to the chest and one to his hand. Incidentally, he was shot at a time when the eyes of the media were not around. The media that was following his convoy had been stopped just 15 minutes before the incident. Needless to say, the circumstances point to a brazen act of extra-judicial killing. Vikas Dubey himself appeared to show that if he wanted to be on the run he would not have surrendered to the police in the first place while U.P. Police had all the reason to pronounce a quick judgment – their several officers were shot dead by his men and the “morale” of the police officers was to be kept high, the U.P government’s reputation, that it had set over the past few years, of zero tolerance towards gangsters and criminals, had to be maintained.
While the encounter itself is not “shocking”, given how encounters have become a commonplace and how police have acted in many cases recently, it manifests the current state of the ailing justice system and the lack of accountability of those who arbitrarily exercise their powers. Vikas Dubey was a history-sheeter with at least 60 cases against him including five cases of murder. But the bloodlust for summary judgment deprives a full investigation and subsequent delivery of total justice. In Vikas Dubey’s case, the politician-policeman-criminal nexus had to be explored. If Vikas Dubey was responsible for killing several policemen, police insiders were responsible for informing his gang of the police’s moves. In 2001, the notorious gangster reportedly killed a state minister inside a police station, in a typical “murder in broad daylight”. Clearly the gangster would not have thrived for so long without a politician-gangster nexus. Several politicians in the opposition have actually hinted this to be the very reason of his encounter killing. Former UP Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav said that the government would have toppled, if the car hadn’t, had facts come to light.
Vikas Dubey’s killing was reportedly the 119th encounter by U.P. Police since 2017. Ever since Yogi Government came to power it made encounters an instrument of state policy to rid the state of crimes and criminals. The criminal-politician link has existed in the state for so long that any TV crime series is often set in U.P. With politician-criminal-police nexus the criminal often gets to see –who’s the boss. The U.P Police has received “clean chits” in at least 74 encounter cases so far. Reportedly there has not been much accountability in encounter cases even after the Supreme Court’s ruling that FIRs must be filed against all the policemen involved in extra-judicial killings and they must face trials. In most of the cases U.P. government has instead reportedly filed cases against criminals for attempt to murder.
The Supreme Court’s guidelines call for an independent inquiry by the CID or police team of another police station. Several encounter deaths from various states have been brought to the Court’s notice by rights activists but with the current caseload of the Courts, extra-judicial killing cases often get deleted or pushed from the cause lists to allow other “pressing” matters. The current case backlog with Courts due to under-recruitment in the judiciary also contributes to delays in justice. There are reportedly only 20 judges per 10 lakh people in India. Resultantly, cynical public impatient with the slow wheels of justice have lauded encounters, in Hyderabad for instance where the public feted police on killing the accused involved in the murder of a vet.
A reform in the judiciary is the need of the hour. The judiciary must uphold the rule of law and call for accountability, equality before the law and question the arbitrary exercise of powers. It must deliver what the Constitution promises i.e. right to a fair trial, guarantee to an individual’s life and liberty. Extra-judicial killings are not only unconstitutional but they also erode the basic structure of the human society. In recent years, India has seen civilisation turn into lynch mobs to deliver what they perceived was justice. If such arbitrary exercise by people or administration is to be prevented, which must be, then Courts should regain and exercise the powers conferred on it to show everyone that it is the Rule of Law that prevails.