NEW DELHI: The Delhi High Court on Wednesday sentenced 16 former policemen to life imprisonment for killing 42 people of a minority community in Hashimpura locality of Uttar Pradesh's Meerut in 1987 and blamed the investigating agencies for the shoddy investigation and destruction of evidence.
A bench of Justices S Muralidhar and Vinod Goel reversed a trial court's verdict which had acquitted the accused and said, "The manner in which the law enforcement officials have frustrated the cause of justice by weeding out important records and not gathering evidence in good time in the present case raises considerable doubts about the ability of a law enforcement agency to carry out an impartial and independent investigation when the persons accused of the crimes are members of the agency itself.
"The high court termed the massacre as targeted killing of unarmed and defenceless people by the police.It convicted the 16 former Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) personnel for murder, kidnapping, criminal conspiracy and destruction of evidence under the Indian Penal Code.
While sentencing all the convicts to life imprisonment, the court said the families of the victims had to wait 31 years to get justice and monetary relief cannot compensate their loss and recommended that every State Legal Services Authority should designate a Nodal Officer to address the needs of the victim families in the case of custodial killings or State excesses.
"The procedure put in place should ensure that such victims or the families are able to access and seek relief under the scheme and that such relief should not be limited to monetary compensation but other range of reliefs respecting the rights to basic survival and dignity of such families," the bench said in its 73 page ruling.
The high court directed the convicts to surrender on or before November 22. All the 16 convicts have retired from service. The high court's verdict came on pleas challenging a trial court's decision to acquit 16 policemen of charges of murder and other crimes in the case.
It said the evidence against the PAC personnel is -"clinching-" in nature and the charges against them stand true beyond reasonable doubt.
The order came on the appeals filed by Uttar Pradesh, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and some private parties including a survivor of the massacre, Zulfiqar Nasir.
The case was transferred to Delhi on a Supreme Court direction in September 2002 following a petition by the families of the massacre victims and survivors. Of the 17 accused, the trial court had acquitted 16, while one died during the trial.