Amidst some 18 deadly encounters with alleged criminals in less than 48 hours over the weekend, Uttar Pradesh police shot at and critically injured an innocent man in Noida and beat up his friend for no fault of theirs. The two men, a gym trainer and his friend, were not even caught in any crossfire. They were stopped by policemen while they were on their way home after attending a wedding and shot at deliberately. Four policemen have been suspended and arrested for the crime. In January, UP police shot dead an eight-year-old boy during one of their staged encounters with alleged robbers. Since the BJP won the elections last March and Yogi Adityanath became chief minister, UP has seen some 900 encounters between police and alleged criminals. India's largest state has been a lawless state for years, but that lawlessness was the doing of criminals. Now, even the police has joined the gangsters, robbers and assorted other criminals in the lawlessness. Uttar Pradesh has become the 'Encounter State', India's own Wild West of the 21st century.
This state-sponsored lawlessness is the direct outcome of Chief Minister Adityanath's publicly stated policy of eliminating alleged criminals through a "bullet for a bullet" strategy. As a result, the state government and its police have begun to wear encounter killings, many of them staged by the police, as a badge of honour. After a recent review meeting with Adityanath, the state police chief had boasted that the killing of 31 alleged criminals in these encounters was a key achievement of the BJP government in less than a year. This is unacceptable. The law allows policemen to use 'minimum force' in the discharge of their duties. No one, including the elected chief minister, can give them unbridled powers to pick and kill people, even alleged criminals, like this. It is shocking that such extra-judicial killings should be happening at a time when capital punishment even at the hands of the justice system is increasingly being looked upon unfavourably.
In the Adityanath case, the National Human Rights Commission has taken note suo motu of the endorsement of brutal violence against citizens and killing in the name of action against alleged criminals and sought response from Adityanath himself and his senior officers. It must probe if the stringent guidelines issued by the apex court in the PUCL vs State of Maharashtra case have been observed by the UP government and police and order punishments where they have been violated. It is also perhaps time the Supreme Court took note of these encounters and ordered a probe, just as it did over a similar series of encounter killings - some 22 of them - in Gujarat during 2003-2006.