Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav is the worst offender when it comes to fake encounter killings. Of 1,788 such deaths across India between 2002 and 2013, Uttar Pradesh has the dubious distinction of being the state with the maximum number of fake encounter deaths (743), statistics released by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and the government's replies to MPs' queries in the Lok Sabha reveal.
Mulayam and BSP chief Mayawati 'oversaw' 431 and 261 fake encounter killings respectively during their tenures as CM. Mulayam saw 201 staged shootouts in his regime in 2006 alone. Mayawati, who was CM from 2007 to 2012, had her worst year in 2007 with 87 killings.
Uttar Pradesh is followed by Assam (273), Andhra Pradesh (101) and Maharashtra (88), according to the NHRC statistics. Contrary to popular perception, the Narendra Modi-led Gujarat is somewhere at the bottom of the list with just 12 fake encounter deaths since 2002. It features below Jharkhand (55), Uttarakhand (53), Delhi (52), Chhattisgarh (46), Karnataka (39), Odisha (39), Manipur (38), Meghalaya (33) and even Tamil Nadu (31).
With the election fever on, the figures provide more fodder for the BJP to target the Congress. After Mulayam and Mayawati, four Congress CMs – Assam's Tarun Gogoi, former Andhra CM YS Rajasekhara Reddy and former Maharashtra CMs Vilasrao Deshmukh and Ashok Chavan - have the worst track record. BJP's Arjun Munda, who was Jharkhand CM from 2005-2006 and then from 2010-2013, is seventh on the list with 27 fake encounter deaths recorded in his second term.
In Andhra Pradesh, the YSR-led Congress government from 2004 to 2009 witnessed 58 encounter deaths. According to Lok Sabha figures, last year, there were 25 fake encounter deaths in the state which is now ruled by his colleague N Kiran Kumar Reddy.
In Assam, under Gogoi, 273 encounters took place since 2002, with 62 in 2011. Similarly, in Maharashtra, Vilasrao's tenure from 2004 to 2008 was the worst with 38 such cases recorded. From 2010 to 2014, the state saw 14 staged shootouts.
Experts point out the reasons for the increasing number of fake encounter killings across states. "Encounters are sanctioned as an unwritten policy approved by politicians, bureaucrats and to some extent, by society as well. When you provide blanket sanction to execute encounters, some unjustified killings are bound to happen," former Border Security Force director general Prakash Singh told dna.
Singh, who served as Uttar Pradesh police chief, says a UP minister went to every district superintendent of police in the area with the names of goons he wanted killed in encounters.
According to Singh, fake encounters also take place because of the failure of the country's criminal justice system in which a normal trial could take 5-35 years. Last year, a CBI court pronounced its verdict after 31 years in a fake encounter case in which 12 people were killed in Gonda district.
"Fake encounters are a reprehensible act and against the tenets of law. We at the NHRC had also summoned the DGP of Uttar Pradesh some time back in the wake of the huge number of encounter deaths," said former NHRC director general PC Sharma.
"Encounter killings are considered to be instant justice and are not only justified but also glorified in the name of insurgency, especially in the Northeast. Police, paramilitary, army and higher government officials enjoy impunity, which results in extrajudicial killings," said Suhas Chakma, director of the Asian Centre for Human Rights. Pointing out that the law made prior sanction necessary for taking action against any senior official, he said: "It makes the chief justice of India subservient to a clerk in some ministry."
Chaman Lal and Savita Bhakhry, the two authors of the 2013 NHRC journal, said: "Fake encounters are considered an operational necessity, legally impermissible, but morally justified by most police personnel. Fake encounters are occurring with such sickening frequency that occasional reports of genuine encounters are viewed with suspicion."