The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) had sent notices to the Uttar Pradesh government over a number of alleged encounter killings by the state police in 2017-18.
The issue has gained significance in view of gangster Vikas Dubey being shot dead Friday by UP police, who claim that he tried to flee after the car carrying him following his arrest in Ujjain, Madhya Pradesh overturned on the outskirts of the city.
In November 2018, the NHRC had sent notices to the UP chief secretary and the police chief of the state, taking suo motu cognisance of a media report about a 20-year old man, Irshad Ahmad of Muzaffarnagar district, being shot dead in an alleged fake encounter on November 27 that year.
Reportedly, Ahmad's father had said his son had no criminal history and was killed in cold blood in a fake encounter, the rights panel had said in a statement while observing that the contents of the news report raised serious questions about violations of human rights of the victim and his family.
It is the "solemn duty of the police force to protect the people and not to create atmosphere of fear under the garb of dealing with crime. Any death caused in an encounter, if not justified, would amount to an offence of culpable homicide," the Commission had observed in its notice.
In February 2018, the NHRC had sent notices to the state's chief secretary and the police chief, taking suo motu cognisance of media reports that a 25-year-old man was shot in Noida allegedly by a sub-inspector of the UP police on the night of the February 3 that year, and that the policeman was reportedly heard "telling his colleague that the encounter would earn him an out-of-turn promotion".
However, reportedly, the Noida police had "denied receiving any message of an encounter", the rights panel had said in a statement.
The Commission, while issuing the notices in this case, had observed that it seemed the "police personnel in the state of Uttar Pradesh are feeling free, misusing their power in the light of an undeclared endorsement given by the higher ups".
It had observed that the police force is meant to protect the people and that incidents such as encounters sent a "wrong message" to the society. "Creating an atmosphere of fear is not the correct way to deal with the crime," the statement said.
In November 2017 too, the human rights watchdog had issued notices to the state government and the DGP, taking suo motu cognisance of media reports about the Adityanath government allegedly endorsing killings in encounters by police to improve the law and order situation in the state.
The NHRC had sought replies from them, including a detailed report on the issue within six weeks.
"According to the official statistics, as reported on the 5th October, 2017, 433 such encounters had occurred over a period of six months starting from March, 2017 when the present government came into existence. A total 19 alleged criminals were killed in these encounters and 89 injured," the NHRC said in a statement. It pointed out that 98 officials were also injured and one had died.
Another news story of September 16, 2017 said that 15 people had been killed in encounters since the new government had come to power in Uttar Pradesh, the rights body said.
The state government had reportedly described the encounters as "an achievement and a proof of improvement in the law and order situation," the NHRC said.
Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath was quoted in a newspaper on November 19, 2017, as saying that "criminals will be jailed or killed in encounters", the rights panel had said, promoting it to send the notices.
According to NHRC guidelines for all states and Union territories, in case of custodial deaths the rights' body should be intimated within 24 hours, and within 48 hours of the incident in case of an encounter death, in order to protect and promote human rights.
The Commission had noted that it had also received intimation of "about 22 encounter deaths from the state police authorities in 2017, as per its standing guidelines.
The NHRC, while issuing the notices had observed that "even if the law and order situation is grave, the state cannot resort to such mechanism, which may result in the extra judicial killings of the alleged criminal".
"It is not good for a civilised society to develop an atmosphere of fear, emerging out of certain policies adopted by the state, which may result into violation of their right to life and equality before law," it said in a statement.
Vikas Dubey was the sixth man to die in a police encounter after the ambush he allegedly masterminded in Kanpur's Bikru village past midnight on July 2, killing eight policemen who had come to arrest him.
Madhya Pradesh police arrested Dubey outside the Mahakal temple in Ujjain on Thursday morning and was handed over to an Uttar Pradesh police team.
Dubey was shot dead Friday by police, who claim he tried to flee after the SUV carrying him from Ujjain overturned on an isolated stretch of a highway. Police said the gangster snatched a pistol from one of the policemen injured in the accident and was shot when he opened fire while trying to flee, an account being questioned by opposition parties.