Assam’s opposition parties Congress and Assam Jatiya Parishad (AJP) came down heavily on Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma on Friday for his statement that shooting criminals who try to escape from custody or snatch service guns of police “should be pattern”. State Congress chief Ripun Bora said that the statement has dangerous ramifications of turning Assam into a ‘police state’ by making law enforcers trigger-happy and disregard human rights.
AJP general secretary Jagadish Bhuyan alleged that the surge in encounters was a ploy to “silence” lower-rung criminals to protect their bosses running illegal syndicates, including politicians and top police officers. The BJP, on the other hand, wondered whether the opposition parties were unhappy that criminals have died.
The chief minister had issued the statement on July 5 while justifying the series of encounters, in which at least 12 suspected insurgents and criminals were killed, since he assumed office, triggering a political slugfest in the state. “Sarma should be aware that both the Supreme Court and the Gauhati High Court have ruled that no matter how dreaded criminals may be, they should be apprehended alive and the police has no right to open fire on the accused or kill them at will,” Bora told reporters here.
Only in case of self-defence can they be fired upon and that too below the knees. The Supreme Court has also said that if a criminal is fired upon even in self-defence or otherwise, police has to give justification before the court for its actions, the Congress leader said. “Despite the apex court’s ruling, a chief minister issuing such a statement speaks volumes about his disregard for the judiciary,” Bora said.
Bhuyan, in a separate press conference, said, “Under the guise of fighting crime, are people being ‘silenced’ and terror created in their minds to protect the top criminals? We also want a crime-free society. But it should be based on the principles of law.” The chief minister’s statement is against the laid- down and approved principles of our country, Bhuyan said. Bhuyan alleged that criminal rackets and syndicates have been running in Assam for several years in connivance with a section of politicians and police officers, and the encounters could be to “protect” those involved in these crimes.
Referring to the operations against cattle smuggling, Bhuyan said, the government should institute an inquiry into the alleged Rs 60,000-crore illegal dealings in the syndicate in the last five years. He pointed out that the chief minister has himself claimed that Rs 1,000-crore illegal transactions happen per month in the cattle smuggling syndicate.
“How can we be sure that those involved in cattle smuggling will not be killed in an encounter to erase all evidence?” Bhuyan questioned. He also expressed apprehension that with the encounters becoming a “pattern”, these could soon be used for vindictive purposes.
Pointing out that the ways to deal with a criminal are elaborated under different sections of IPC, CrPC, and Police Manual, the AJP leader alleged that the chief minister’s statement could lead to a mindset among the police officers in favour of encounters. If any convict or accused is to die in police firing other than the conditions specified under the law, the police officers have to face charges of culpable homicide, Bhuyan said.
Both the parties also attacked Sarma for another statement that an MLA’s only role is to make laws in the assembly and he/she has no part to play in developmental activities in his/her constituency, the responsibility of which rests upon ministers, and no officer is bound to listen to a legislator’s directives. “His remarks are not only abusive to the elected representatives but also insult our revered Constitution of India. That a Political Science degree holder and a PhD scholar like Sarma could utter such words about the Constitution is doubly shameful,” Bora said.
The Constitution clearly highlights not only the legislative powers of the MLAs but also their executive and financial powers, he said. “Sarma’s attempts to forcefully undermine the function and powers of the MLAs exposes his fascist mentality and his remark that as long as he is chief minister, it will continue in this manner is also condemnable,” the state Congress chief added.
The AJP leader said the chief minister’s statement undermines the power and role of an MLA in a democratic setup. “The executive, the legislature, and the judiciary are the pillars of democracy. The CM’s statement negates the importance of the legislature,” he said.
The message that the chief minister is sending that only the executive is important is against our Constitution and the AJP strongly opposes it, he added. Responding to the allegations, state BJP chief spokesperson Rupam Goswami said, “Are they (opposition parties) unhappy that criminals have died? This is not the first time that such incidents have taken place in the state.” “If someone snatches the service pistol from a policeman and tries to flee or shoot him, wont he react to it?” he said.
Goswami, however, added that everything has to happen “under the umbrella of law”. On asked why there has been a sudden increase in the number of such incidents, the BJP leader refused to comment.
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