CHENNAI: A day after they gunned down five men who are suspected to have robbed two banks in the city, the Chennai police are finding themselves in the firing line.
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) on Friday issued notices to the Tamil Nadu director general of police and the district magistrate and the senior superintendent of police, Chennai, to investigate the deaths.
Around the same time, a lawyer filed a public interest litigation in the Madras high court, seeking a direction to the state to register a case of murder against police personnel involved in the alleged encounter and hand over the case to the Central Bureau of Investigation.
Chennai police officials were at their evasive best on Friday as XIV metropolitan magistrate Geetha Rani of the Egmore court completed the preliminary inquiry.
"Let the judicial inquiry answer your questions," said Chennai commissioner J K Tripathy, reacting to media reports exposing various holes in the police story. Contrary to the police claim that a special team descended on A L Mudali Street in Velachery, where the five men lived, after midnight, neighbours had told reporters that the place was teeming with police well before 10pm on Wednesday. The absence of blood on the walls and the minor injuries suffered by two inspectors while all the suspects took bullets in their heads had raised questions against the police version that they had opened fire in self-defence.
The NHRC, meanwhile, served the notice based on an online complaint from Peoples' Vigilance Committee on Human Rights secretary general Lenin Raghuvanshi.
The commission directed the officers to respond to its notice within eight weeks along with the magisterial inquiry report, the postmortem report and an independent investigation report. "The commission will deliberate on these and take further action," said NHRC public relations officer Jaimini Kumar Srivastava.
Raghuvanshi told TOI that his complaint was based on the rule of law. "We want an independent probe by the state government, as per the guidelines of the NHRC," he said. In his complaint, he sought videography of the postmortem of the victims and asked that the same be communicated to the NHRC.
Concerned over the deaths during the course of police action, the NHRC, in May 2010, had told chief ministers of all states to follow revised guidelines since its previous recommendations were not followed in "true spirit." If a specific complaint is made against the police alleging the commission of a criminal act on their part, which makes out a cognizable case of culpable homicide, the case shall be investigated by the state CB-CID or any other specialised investigation agency.
Prompt prosecution and disciplinary action must be initiated against all delinquent officers found guilty in the magisterial inquiry or police investigation, the NHRC noted.
Fake cloud on 'robber' ID proofsOUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
Chennai, Feb. 24: At least three of the five suspected bank robbers shot dead in Chennai yesterday could have had fake ID proofs, police said on a day the national rights panel sought an explanation on the alleged encounter.
Four Voter ID cards with Bihar addresses were found in the house where they were killed. The fifth was a driving licence that mentioned a Howrah locality.
While no man by the name of Abhay Kumar Singh, as listed on the Howrah licence, was found to be living in the town near Calcutta, Bihar police said at least two of the four cards mentioning the state appeared fabricated.
Patna SSP Alok Kumar suggested the voter card used to identify one of the robbers as Chandrika Rai may be spurious. That was because a person by that name was alive and living in his village at Fatuha, near Patna. "Chandrika Rai is a driver."
Doubts also surfaced about the identity of the second person, Vinod Kumar Sah, the alleged gang leader. "A police team found that no one by the name of Vinod Kumar Sah has ever lived in that village," Kumar said.
Chennai's SRM University has also denied that Vinod was a former student, as police in the southern state had claimed yesterday on the basis of some papers found in the house.
Bihar police are in the process of verifying the papers of the two others, named identified by the cards as Harishkumar Ray and Vinay Prasad.
Chennai police chief J.K. Tripathy acknowledged the IDs could be doctored. "We released their names based on the four voter ID cards and one driving licence. They could be fakes. We have sent the photos from the cards and that of the deceased (from the mortuary) for possible leads."
Other officers in Chennai said the ID cards could have been faked to enable the gang to book train tickets and rent houses — the five stayed as tenants in the house where they were shot dead. The lack of bullet marks has raised doubts about whether it was an encounter, as the cops have claimed.
Another officer dubbed the shootout a "deterrent". "There are thousands of migrant workers and students here. Our state cannot be a stage for criminal activities by unscrupulous elements using the student and worker population as a convenient cover."
The migrant theory was also mentioned by Lenin Raghuvanshi, a Varanasi activist who filed the petition that led the National Human Rights Commission to seek an explanation on the alleged encounter. "Everywhere in the world there is a distrust and intolerance towards migrants. Only an inquiry can reveal the truth." The state crime branch is probing the alleged shootout.