There exists a cell of policemen within the Delhi Police which is accountable to no one but itself. Operating without uniforms, these are the dreaded encounters specialists of Delhi. The cell is effectively run by an ACP by the name of Rajbir Singh, who was given several quick promotions through the ranks for the several "encounters" in which he is supposed to have killed several dreaded terrorists. Though it is well-known that these "encounters" are euphemisms used to describe killings in cold blood by the special cell, there have hardly been any official investigations into these "encounters", despite the guidelines of the National Human Rights Commission requiring such investigations.
However, an unofficial investigation by the People’s Union for Democratic rights and the People’s Union for Civil Liberties into some of the encounter killings by the Special Cell has raised several serious questions about whether the persons killed in such fake encounters were terrorists or even criminals or merely nameless traders from across the border who were picked up, killed in cold blood, and then branded as terrorists who were killed in these heroic encounters which are notched up to get medals and promotions for the policeman of the Special Cell.
It is this Special Cell which had investigated the Parliament attack case and had spectacularly completed the investigation in a few days by arresting four alleged conspirators including S. A. R. Geelani and a lady named Navjot Sandhu. Geelani, who refused to confess, despite being tortured by the Special Cell, has been acquitted by the High Court. So has Navjot Sandhu, who has unfortunately lost her mental composure during her incarceration. The appeals of the other two, a surrendered militant Afzal and Navjot’s husband Shaukat are currently being heard by the Supreme Court. The Special Cell has been found guilty of fabricating records and evidence. Unfortunately, no action has been taken against the policemen for the torture and the fabrication of evidence and they still continue to operate with impunity.
Geelani had filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court many months ago about how policemen of the Special Cell had been following him after he was released and that he feared for his life. His fears appear to have been justified now in the light of the recent murderous attack on him just outside the house of his lawyer. Though it is still not certain who is behind the attack, the manner in which the Delhi police has been conducting the investigation certainly seems to suggest that they are not interested in finding the attacker and those behind it.
The police began by publicly raising questions about Geelani and his lawyer Nandita Haksar. Why had nobody heard the gunshots, they asked, insinuating that he had not been shot there (as if he had shot himself or would risk getting himself killed by driving to his lawyer instead of going to the hospital after getting shot). Stories were planted in the press that since the bullets were not extracted from his body, perhaps he was not even shot. Why did Haksar not inform the police immediately (though she told them that her entire attention was focused on taking him to hospital and saving his life)? Why had Geelani’s family not handed over his sweater and jacket to the police (though it was handed over as soon as the police asked for it)?
The police have now become adept at raising all these questions though the media which is attached to the police, or on the "crime beat." These journalists "embedded with the police" (a la the journalists embedded with the US army in Iraq) become a convenient tool for the police to disseminate disinformation or in raising such red herrings. It was this phenomena of journalists being fed exclusive "inside information" about the Parliament attack investigation, which led to the totally tendentious and grossly unfair and contemptuous film being telecast by Zee TV on the eve of the judgement by the trial court, in which Geelani, Navjot and others were shown as hatching and executing a conspiracy to attack Parliament.
Unfortunately, the Supreme Court allowed the film to be telecast (in deference to "freedom of the press") though the courts have often restrained publications which only expose judicial wrongdoing (such as the Aaj Tak telecast about the former Chief Justice of Madras against whom they had a copy of an impeachment motion containing several serious charges of corruption).
Geelani in his statement to the police from the hospital did indicate that he suspects the involvement of the Special Cell in his attack. Geelani had not told anyone about the fact that he was going to Haksar’s house that evening (which appointment had only been fixed a short while earlier). Only the Special cell which had been following him and monitoring his calls could have known that he was going to meet his lawyer that evening. Geelani has been a great thorn in their flesh. He had not only exposed their torture to get him to confess, his acquittal had raised lots of inconvenient questions about the means and methods of the Special Cell.
The Supreme Court where the police’s appeal against his acquittal is pending is likely to be even more scathing in their judgement about the conduct of the investigators. It is also well known that officials of such cells like the Special Cell are routinely in contact with hardened criminals who could be asked to attack Geelani. Thus, in a word, the Special Cell had the knowledge (of Geelani’s meeting with Haksar), the motive and the means to do this. This however still does not mean that they are involved in the attack. But the needle of suspicion is certainly on them.
The investigation so far by the Crime branch of the Delhi police has not got anywhere and the stories and questions being planted by them thorough the embedded media clearly indicates that the investigation so far is not honest. It is therefore necessary in the interest of justice that this investigation be transferred to an independent body, perhaps to the NHRC or even the CBI. It is only then that the truth about who tried to silence Geelani may emerge. However, in any case, the special cell must be made accountable. It is time that an official independent investigation was conducted into all their "encounters".
Prashant Bhushan is an eminent public interest lawyer in the Supreme Court.