GUWAHATI: A rising number of shoot-out encounters, which have seen at least a dozen suspected insurgents and criminals being shot dead as they "tried to escape" from custody in less than two months, has whipped up a political furore in Assam.
The rise in the number of such incidents since the new government came to power on May 10 has led the opposition to allege that the Assam Police has turned "trigger happy" under the Himanta Sarma-led regime.
The Assam Police has, however, refuted this allegation, claiming that it was the militants and criminals who forced its personnel to resort to firing.
"There have been about 12 deaths in police encounters or firing when criminals had tried to flee custody in the last couple of months," Special Director General of Police (Law and Order) Gyanendra Pratap Singh told PTI in an interview.
Among them are six suspected Dimasa National Liberation Army (DNLA) militants and two alleged insurgents of United People's Revolutionary Front (UPRF), who were killed in separate encounters with the police in Karbi Anglong district.
Four other suspected criminals were killed in different encounters in Dhemaji, Nalbari, Sivasagar and Karbi Anglong districts.
Many of the accused had allegedly snatched the service pistols of the police officers, following which shootouts had taken place.
Some encounters had taken place when the police attempted to arrest the accused persons and some when they tried to flee on being taken for crime scene reconstruction, he said.
"The police had to resort to firing when these militants and criminals attempted to escape from custody.
Only they can say why they tried to flee," the officer said.
Declining to comment on why there has been a sudden rise in the number of such encounters by the police, the senior officer said that no enquiry has been instituted in any case where the criminal was injured.
"Enquiry is ordered in cases where the fleeing criminal is injured only if there is any reason (to suspect that there was some extraneous issue involved).
No enquiry has been ordered in any of such incidents in the last two months," he said.
The incidents, where the accused have lost their lives, have been reported to the relevant authorities, including the National Human Rights Commission, as is the procedure, the Special DGP said.
Among those injured in such police encounters are rape accused and cattle smugglers.
In all the encounters where the accused were injured, they were taken for crime scene reconstruction and attempted to run away, prompting the police to open fire on them, he said.
A former state Director General of Police, who wished not to be named, said the law allows police use of force but they should be judicious in their use of it.
"The law allows police to use force under specific circumstances. The circumstances may, however, differ from case to case," the former top cop told PTI.
He said that if anyone has any doubt about the authenticity of the encounters, then there are various redressal mechanisms like approaching the courts and the human rights bodies.
On lodging of no complaints so far against these encounters, the retired IPS officer said, "It could mean that everyone believes that these were genuine incidents or indicate people's apathy towards such cases.
At some level, it would imply social sanction too.
" He said that every incident has to be examined and one should not come to any conclusion just because there has been an increase in the number of such incidents.
"There is the mandatory protocol for reporting to the higher authorities, including the human rights commission, when death takes place.
These reports could perhaps lead to a better understanding of the circumstances of the incidents," the ex-DGP added.
Reacting to the increase in encounters, the Leader of the opposition Debabrata Saikia claimed that the Assam Police was doing this to cover up their laxity and appease the new regime.
"When criminals try to flee police custody, it is laxity of policing.
The criminals are taken for crime scene reconstruction and they try to flee.
This has become a routine affair now.
It seems Assam Police is becoming trigger happy," he said.
The senior Congress leader said that the police is trying to prove themselves before the new government but if it could have just done its job properly, there would have been no need for such tactics.
Raijor Dal chief and MLA Akhil Gogoi also alleged that "open killing" by the police was going on in the name of encounters.
"The criminals are being killed now, hence no one is saying anything.
But when the general people will be targeted after this becomes acceptable, then we will have a problem," he added.