SC to hear on July 14 pleas for independent probe into Atiq Ahmad’s killing

The Supreme Court on Monday said it would hear on July 14 pleas, including the one filed by the sister of slain gangster-turned-politician Atiq Ahmad and Ashraf seeking constitution of a commission chaired by a retired apex court judge to inquire into their “custodial” and “extra judicial deaths”.

Two separate pleas pertaining to Ahmad came up for hearing before a bench of Justices S R Bhat and Aravind Kumar.

Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for Uttar Pradesh, told the bench that the state has filed a status report in terms of the apex court’s April 28 order that was passed while hearing a plea by advocate Vishal Tiwari, who has sought an independent probe into the killing of Ahmad and his brother.

Ahmad (60) and Ashraf were shot dead at point-blank range by three men posing as journalists in the middle of a media interaction while police personnel were escorting them to a medical college in Prayagraj on April 15.

“At the moment, we are not looking into individual issues. We are looking at the systemic problem,” the bench observed during the hearing.

Tiwari, who in his plea has also sought an inquiry into the “183 police encounters” that have taken place in Uttar Pradesh since 2017, told the bench that he has prepared a brief rejoinder to the status report filed by the state.

He claimed there was “suppression of material fact” in the state’s status report.

An advocate, appearing for the sister of Ahmad, said they have filed a separate petition and it was listed for hearing today.

The bench said it would hear these matters on July 14.

In its status report affidavit filed in the top court, the Uttar Pradesh government has said the state is “leaving no stone unturned in ensuring a thorough, impartial and timely investigation” into the deaths of Ahmad and Ashraf.

“Furthermore, the state is also inquiring into security lapses that may have led to the three attackers getting through the police cordon and firing at Ahmad and Ashraf. On the basis of prima facie reports from the relevant ACPs, four of the police officers present on the scene and the SHO of PS Shahganj, under whose jurisdiction the incident took place, have been suspended pending initiation of disciplinary proceedings. The inquiry in this regard is in progress,” it said.

It said the status report deals with inquiry into the April 15 incident, steps taken in relation to deaths of Mohd Asad Khan, son of Ahmad, and Mohd Ghulam on April 13 and also the steps taken by state to implement the recommendations of Justice B S Chauhan Commission of Inquiry report.

Former apex court judge Justice Chauhan headed the commission that probed the encounter killing of gangster Vikas Dubey in 2020.

Dubey and his men had ambushed and killed eight policemen at his native Bikru village in Kanpur district in July 2020. He was arrested in Ujjain in Madhya Pradesh and was being brought back in Uttar Pradesh Police custody when he allegedly tried to escape and was shot dead. Doubts were raised about the genuineness of the police encounter.

Regarding deaths of Mohd Asad Khan and Mohd Ghulam, the state has said in its status report that the incident took place in Jhansi on April 13 in “police retaliatory firing”.

“During the course of investigation, the IO (investigating officer) took custody of the policemen’s Glock pistols and sent them for forensic examination. Photographs of the crime scene, collection of evidence, weapons used by the accused, hollow and live cartridges, plain earth and blood-stained earth and gunshot residue of the accused were secured. The investigation continues to be in progress as on date,” it said regarding the April 13 incident.

The status report also gave details about the steps taken to implement the recommendations of the Justice Chauhan’s commission report, which had concluded that the police versions of the deaths of Dubey and his associates in police retaliatory firing could not be doubted.

“At the level of police reform, one of the commission’s main concerns was the separation of the law and order and investigation wings of the state. It is submitted that the state is ensuring compliance regarding the separation of investigation police and law and order police in Uttar Pradesh Police,” the status report said.

It said there has been an overhaul of manpower reform and a total of 10,877 posts of various cadres have been created in the police department from April 11, 2021 till date in the context of current allocation and creation of new posts, formation of special units, increase in manpower etc.

“Further, action on a requisitioning of 1,12,177 further posts of various cadres is also under progress,” it said.

The status report said the police department has also undergone a modernisation rehaul and several things, including medium prison vans/drones, postmortem kits and various vehicles, have been purchased from the grant approved by the Government of India and the Uttar Pradesh government.

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It said forensic science labs have increased from eight to 12 by adding Kannauj, Aligarh, Gonda and Bareilly and the process of establishing FSLs in six more cities — Basti, Mirzapur, Azamgarh, Banda, Ayodhya and Saharanpur — is also underway.

While hearing Tiwari’s plea on April 28, the top court had questioned the Uttar Pradesh government why Ahmad and Ashraf, a former MLA, were paraded before media while being taken to a hospital for a medical checkup in police custody.

The counsel appearing for Uttar Pradesh had told the court the state has constituted a three-member commission of inquiry to probe the incident that was shown live on national television.

A special investigation team (SIT) of Uttar Pradesh Police is also investigating the case, the counsel had said.

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