Notice to Centre, A.P. on encounter killing of Azad and journalist
New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday sought the response of the Union and the Andhra Pradesh governments on two petitions seeking a judicial inquiry into the alleged encounter killings of Cherukuri Rajkumar alias Azad, spokesperson of the Communist Party of India (Maoist), and journalist Hemchandra Pandey by the Andhra Pradesh police on the night of July 1 last year.
A Bench of Justices Aftab Alam and R.M. Lodha issued the notice, returnable in six weeks, after hearing counsel Prashant Bhushan, appearing for petitioners Swami Agnivesh and Pandey's wife Bineeta Pandey.
Justice Alam orally observed: “Our Republic cannot bear the stain to kill its own children. We will issue notice. They will have to respond. We hope there will be good and convincing answer to the questions [raised in the petitions].”
The petitioners said the post mortem reports and fact-finding carried out by the Coordination of Democratic Rights Organisations (CDRO) clearly indicated that it was not a genuine encounter and that Azad and Pandey were killed in blatant violation of their rights under Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution.
Azad was carrying a letter from Swami Agnivesh for peace talks when he was taken into custody along with Pandey. Then Swami Agnivesh sent a letter to Azad, suggesting three possible dates for starting a 72-hour suspension of armed resistance by the CPI (Maoist) and simultaneous cessation of action by the government forces. During that period, the government would invite Maoists for talks and initiate a mutual ceasefire agreement, the petitioners said.
However, on the intervening night of July 1-2, both Azad and Pandey were killed. According to the CPI (Maoist), Azad was scheduled to meet local contact Sahadev in Nagpur at 11 a.m. on July 1 and travel to the Dandakaranya forests for meeting senior Maoists to discuss Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram's proposal and likely dates for a ceasefire.
But he never turned up for the meeting.
“The alleged encounter, if proved fake — as indicated by the CDRO report — is in blatant violation of Article 21.” The refusal to initiate an inquiry, despite questions raised about the veracity of a police investigation by human rights activists, organisations and sections of the media, and the disruption it caused to the peace process initiated by the Home Minister himself were “unreasonable and arbitrary” and raised serious questions about the bona fides of the Home Ministry, the petitioners said.
A file photograph of the body of Cherukuri Rajkumar alias Azad, killed in an encounter with the police on the Velgi hills in Adilabad district of Andhra Pradesh on July 1.
NEW DELHI: With the Supreme Court coming down on the Centre and the Andhra Pradesh government for the alleged cold-blooded killing of Maoist spokesperson Cherukuri Rajkumar alias Azad and journalist Hemchandra Pandey, the authorities will finally be forced to answer the series of uncomfortable questions thrown up by an independent investigation into the encounter last year.
While the State police claimed the alleged encounter with Azad and a large group of Maoists took place in the limits of the Wankadi police station of Adilabad district on the night of July 1, a fact-finding team constituted by the Coordination of Democratic Rights Organisations (CDRO) poked holes in the official account.
The team, consisting of notable personalities including Supreme Court senior advocate Prashant Bhushan, opined that Azad was likely shot dead from a very close range, not more than a foot, rather than from a distance as the police said.
The CDRO argued that the duo was killed with the knowledge of the Union Home Ministry as Azad was preparing for peace talks between the Centre and the Maoists at the initiative of social activist Swami Agnivesh.
Referring to the post mortem report of Azad, the report raised doubts on the versions given by the police and pointed out: “… the fatal bullet entry wound from the chest ‘at the left 2nd intercestal space' had ‘darkening burnt edges'. The burnt mark at the entry wound is a clear indication of a bullet being fired from a very close range (no more than a foot). The corresponding exit wound is at the ninth and tenth inter-vertebral space and depth is nine inches.”
“That means the bullet entered from the upper chest and travelled downwards. This questions the police version that Maoists were on the top of the hill and they (police) were below,” the team opined.
The team, referring to the version of the police that they located the two unidentified bodies (which later turned out to be that of Azad and Pandey) only the next morning (July 2), wondered how the police were able to pinpoint the location of the Maoists in a forest of several hundred sq.km on the Andhra Pradesh-Maharashtra border.
How come, despite 30 minutes of firing (11 to 11.30 p.m.), not a single policeman suffered any injury, whereas only Azad and Pandey were killed, the report asks. If there were 20 Maoists as stated in the FIR, why were they able to locate only two kit bags and two weapons. “In any escapade there would be more belongings left behind.”
Similarly if the police were unaware of the identities of the two dead men till 9.30 a.m. on July 2 at the time of filing of the FIR, how did the electronic media learn by 6 a.m. on July 2 that Azad had been killed in an encounter? Several channels had also announced his death. “So it clearly shows that the police knew who they had killed,” the team said.
The team wondered why the police selected Wankadi mandal for the “encounter” as the “villagers clearly told us that in recent years there had been no Maoist activity in the region.”
Media reports at the time quoted human rights activists alleging that Azad and Pandey were picked up by the police at Nagpur on June 30 and brought to Andhra Pradesh in a helicopter and shot dead. They also mentioned that Azad was carrying a letter of Swami Agnivesh at the time of his arrest. Azad was a central committee member of the CPI (Maoist).
Even Railway Minister and Trinamool Congress president Mamata Banerjee raised doubts on the death of Azad and demanded a judicial probe. There were pleas in this regard in Parliament too. But Home Minister P. Chidambaram rejected them, stating the issue was a State subject and it was for the Andhra Pradesh government to decide