Though Maharashtra stayed the jail convictions of 11 Mumbai policemen for allegedly killing gangster Lakhan Bhaiya, the apex court took a dim view of it and asked them to surrender.
By Neeta Kolhatkar
The Mumbai police faced another setback recently. While the first setback was the Bombay High Court passing strictures against it for lapses in investigation in the Salman Khan case, the second was when the Supreme Court stayed the appeal of 11 policemen convicted in a fake encounter case where Ram Narayan Gupta, alias Lakhan Bhaiya, an alleged member of the Chhota Rajan gang, was killed in November 2006.
The 11 policemen had, on January 4, 2016, applied for more time to surrender but the Supreme Court Bench of Justices Sharad Bobde and PC Pant stayed their appeal and ordered them to surrender immediately. Seven cops did. Later three more surrendered, except one. The petition was also withdrawn by the cops from the apex court.
The Supreme Court then asked the Bombay High Court, which had earlier pronounced the policemen guilty, to decide the case within six weeks.
The brother of Lakhan Bhaiya, advocate Ramprasad Gupta, told India Legal that as per law, he was expecting this verdict from the Supreme Court. He said the Maharashtra government’s earlier decision to stay the jail sentence of the 11 cops had sent a wrong message to society. “When the cops were found guilty by the Bombay High Court in the fake encounter against my brother, I don’t know why the government stayed their jail convictions. It sends the message that whatever wrong the police do, the state shall stand by them. I welcome the order,” he said.
Now that they had been found guilty, Gupta said he wants to see them hanged. He cited the verdict of Justices Markandey Katju and Gyan Sudha Misra in May 2011 where they had said that fake encounter killings fell within the category of “rarest of rare” cases and policemen found involved in such killings “must be given the death sentence”. Gupta said: “I had challenged the government in the Bombay High Court and referred to Justice Katju’s judgment.”
Interestingly, the case has seen a few twists and turns. While the trial court and High Court found the 11 policemen guilty, the person who allegedly ordered and supervised the killing, encounter specialist Pradeep Sha- rma, was acquitted.
It was in July 2013 that sessions judge VD Jadhwar convicted three policemen—senior inspectors Pradeep Suryavanshi, Tanaji De-sai and Dilip Palande—for Lakhan Bhaiya’s killing and others for aiding and abetting it.
Advocate Abha Singh said the government has powers under Section 432 of the CrPC to suspend sentences. “Firstly, we need to understand that Lakhan Bhaiya was an aide of dreaded gangster Chhota Rajan. He was not an innocent man,” she said.
“But there is a travesty of justice that the one to order the killing has been let off, while others have to pay the price. We are time and again seeing two sets of justice. If we go by what Chhota Rajan has said, that he fears the Mumbai police because some of them are close to Dawood Ibrahim, there is all the more reason for the court to be careful before acquitting Sharma.”
Officials in Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis office said that the government will not appeal in the Supreme Court over this matter as it wants to avoid further controversies. “The government only took a lenient stand because these are constables and policemen in the lower rank. While the senior officer was let off, there is nothing wrong in it as the state is empowered to do so under Sections 432 and 433 (A),” said an official on condition of anonymity. “For the record, the National Human Rights Commi-ssion had stated that it was a genuine encounter. However, the court has taken a different view. We will go by the Supreme Court order,” he said.
Meanwhile, the accused policemen are being supported in the Supreme Court by Patit Pavan Sanghatana, a Hindu right-wing outfit. Incidentally, its founder member, Nitin Sontakke, was arrested in July 2014 by the Economic Offences Wing for allegedly duping Indian Bank, Pune, to the tune of `84 crore in 2010. Sontakke tersely said the apex court has only admitted their application and they have vowed to fight for these policemen.
“We have asked senior Supreme Court lawyer KTS Tulsi to represent the policemen in Court. These are not just the sentiments of our Sangh-atana. Former chief minister Narayan Rane, former deputy chief minister, Ajit Pawar and the late home minister RR Patil too believed in helping the police. They fight against anti-social elements; who will ascertain that they are guilty? Not the media; let the Supreme Court decide that,” Sontakke said.
He alleged that the media conducted its own trial and called the accused cops “guilty”, which he said was malicious. “I challenge the media to see the report filed in the trial court. It is a public document. See whether they have cleared the policemen. The same trial court stated that evidence against these cops is poor. The media is spreading wrong views instead of seeing the facts placed before the court,” asserted Sontakke.
Gupta and his family, meanwhile, have received police security after the killing of an eye-witness and threats to him.
“The threats have not stopped. This fight has been against all odds and is still not over,” said Gupta. “Legally this case is important. Till 2006, many encounters took place in Maharashtra and other areas. After the order of Justices Katju and Misra, we saw a decrease in them.”
This case has highlighted the stiff opposition to encounter killings by courts. The defense used by the police that they have cleansed the system by taking the law into their hands, is not well-received.