The Supreme Court said Friday that staged shootouts involving contract killings by policemen should be counted in the category of rarest of rare cases and those found guilty should be sentenced to death.
“We are of the view that in cases where a fake encounter is proved against policemen in a trial, they must be given death sentence, treating it as the rarest of rare cases,” said an apex court bench of Justice Markandey Katju and Justice Gyan Sudha Misra.
Speaking for the bench, Justice Katju said: “Fake encounters are nothing but cold blooded, brutal murder by persons who are supposed to uphold the law,” and added: “Trigger-happy policemen who think they can kill people in the name of an encounter and get away with it should know that the gallows await them.”
“In our opinion if crimes are committed by ordinary people, ordinary punishment should be given, but if the offence is committed by policemen much harsher punishment should be given to them because they do an act totally contrary to their duties,” the court said.
The judgement came as the court dismissed an appeal by Prakash Kadam and others who had challenged a Bombay High Court order cancelling the bail granted to the accused by a sessions court. They were accused of a contract killing.
Kadam and others are policemen and are accused of killing in a man named Ramnaryan Gupta in a staged shootout. The accused were engaged as contract killers to eliminate the deceased.
The judgment warned the erring policemen that “they will not be excused for committing murder in the name of ‘encounter’ on the pretext that they were carrying out the orders of their superior officers or politicians, however high”.
Referring to the Nuremburg trials, during which Nazi war criminals of the Second World War had taken the plea that “orders are orders” and had to be carried out, the court said that their plea was not accepted and they were hanged.
“If a policeman is given an illegal order by any superior to do a fake ‘encounter’, it is his duty to refuse to carry out such an illegal order, otherwise he will be charged for murder, and if found guilty, sentenced to death. The ‘encounter’ philosophy is a criminal philosophy, and all policemen must know this,” the judgment said.
“It is imperative in our opinion to mention that our ancient thinkers were of the view that the worst state of affairs possible in society is a state of lawlessness.
“When the rule of law collapses, it is replaced by Matsyanyaya, which means the law of the jungle. In Sanskrit, the word ‘Matsya’ means fish, and Matsyanyaya means a state of affairs where the big fish devours the smaller one,” the court said.
While dismissing the appeal, the court said that the trial court will decide the criminal case against the appellants uninfluenced by any observations made in this judgment, or in the impugned high court judgment.