Disha encounter case: Commission hearing puts police on the spot

A deep dive into the cross-examination of the witnesses revealed glaring lapses on part of the chief investigating officer, J Surender Reddy.

Hyderabad: A young veterinary doctor, whom the media refers to as Disha was kidnapped, and later gang-raped and murdered. The perpetrators then dumped her body on the outskirts of Hyderabad and burnt it.

The noteworthy aspects of the investigation by the police discuss how the accused were identified, arrested, and later murdered. The News Minute carried out an in-depth analysis to shed light on the matter.

Chennakesavulu, Jollu Shiva, Jollu Naveen and Mohammad Arif were suspected of committing the crime. On December 6, 2019, the police shot dead the four accused at Chatanpally in Ranga Reddy district, reportedly when they tried to ‘escape from custody’. The police claimed that the four accused were killed in an exchange of fire at the crime scene when they were taken for a crime scene recreation. 

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Six days later, on December 12, 2019, the Supreme Court-appointed a three-member inquiry committee to probe the suspicious circumstances under which the four accused were murdered. The committee consisted of former Supreme Court judge VS Sirpurkar, former Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) chief DR Karthikeyan and former Bombay High Court judge RP Sondurbaldota. The Commission started its inquiry into the Disha encounter case in the first week of February 2020. 

A deep dive into the cross-examination of the witnesses revealed glaring lapses on part of the chief investigating officer of the case, J Surender Reddy.

J Surender Reddy, the investigating officer (IO) of the encounter case, is also an additional Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP) from the Rachakonda police. Virupaksha Gowda, the Commission’s advocate, and K Parameshwar, an advocate appointed by the Supreme Court to assist the Commission, questioned Reddy.

At one point in the cross-examination, the IO admitted to overlooking many aspects raised by the Commission, while conducting his investigation.

Surender Reddy was cross-examined for over two days. The four accused in the case were arrested and detained at the Shadnagar police station. The first noteworthy discrepancy which came through in the examination was that while Reddy claimed that he was informed by the station house officer of the police station about CCTV cameras malfunctioning, the affidavit submitted to the commission stated that the police station did not have any CCTV cameras at all.

The fact that no CCTV footage was collected from any of the locations where the four men were lodged raised several questions among the Commission officials. The investigation officer, however, maintained that the various witnesses and details that had been obtained made the CCTV footage unnecessary.

The officer further claimed that the safety latch on the police guns was not on in this particular case. He also claimed that the rounds were fired on the accused from a distance of 26 to 45 feet. However, Surender Reddy was hazy on how this distance was calculated and remarked that all details were collated during the preliminary investigation.

The counsel inquired whether the lock-up rules in the police manual allowed the accused to be handed over to the prison late in the night, as in this case. The investigation officer deflected the question, stating it was a matter related to the prison department.

The IO said that the fingerprints of the accused couldn’t be traced on the weapons used to shoot at the police, due to the rough surface of the weapons. He also added that the fingerprints of the accused were neither found on the pistol pouches of the police or on the sticks and rods which the police allege the accused attacked them with.  

The officer rubbished the claims by Disha’s sister wherein she remarked that the police never contacted her post the killings and said that in actuality, he had got in touch with her. During the cross-examination, it also came to light that the articles belonging to Disha were not sent for forensic analysis.

It came to light that Gunshot residue from the police weapons was collected hours after the encounter killings. However, the counsel argued that it was imperative that the GSR test be conducted immediately after the incident.

The Commission noted several lapses highlighted by the counsel, and the body language and behaviour of the IO. They also stated that if it wasn’t a fact-finding committee, they would probably also make a record of how the officer wasn’t forthcoming.

Disha’s sister, who was the second witness to be cross-examined, told the Commission that the police never contacted her after she had filed the complaint of Disha’s missing nor after the encounter killings. However, the investigating officer said that the police had contacted the sister and that it was she who had identified the recovered cell phone and other belongings of Disha.

Among the six witnesses to be examined in the first schedule, the first was Telangana Home Secretary Ravi Gupta. In his affidavit, the Home Secretary supported the police officers and stated that the accused were actually shot at in self-defense and hence the shooting would not amount to murder.  

The Commission also sought further substantiation on whether they were any other witnesses to the encounter, whether the police manual was adhered to and why the officials refused to issue warnings before shooting the accused.

The Commission also observed that the Telangana government did not carry out a judicial inquiry into the incident as mandated by law.

Speaking to TNM, PV Krishnamachary, independent counsel for the families of the victims of the encounter said they were content over the way the proceedings were progressing.

He further said that three of the four victims were juveniles and as such, they should have been sent to the juvenile home and not the jail. “I am hopeful that those responsible for the encounter will surely be identified and punished,” he said.   

The Commission will resume the examination of the witnesses in the second schedule on September 1. The judges will be seated at the Commission’s office within the Telangana High Court premises. The remaining witnesses will be questioned at the hearing.  

(The above report has been taken from The News Minute.)

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