Manipur staged killings: SC asks CBI to take 'rational' call on arresting accused

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New Delhi : The Supreme Court on Monday asked the CBI Director to take a "rational" decision if arrest and custodial interrogation of accused was needed into the alleged extra-judicial killings in Manipur by Army, Assam Rifles and state police.

A bench of Justice Madan B. Lokur and Justice U.U. Lalit questioned the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) chief Alok Kumar Verma , who was present in court in pursuant to court's order, why no arrest has been made after it was informed that the agency has filed two charge sheets in trial court on Monday morning, naming fourteen accused.

"Have you (CBI) arrested anyone during the investigation? Was there any custodial interrogation? Normally arrest is essential for the investigation," said the bench.

The CBI chief replied that it has not arrested anyone because it could not find any reason to arrest them as it doesn't have anything to recover from them (accused) after almost 30 years.

At this, the bench slammed the CBI and asked, for example "if a man rapes a woman nothing will be recovered, but you will not arrest the person because nothing could be recovered?"

"So, you want Manipur to be surrounded by murderers (as accused were not arrested). According to your charge sheets, they are murderers, yet you allow them to roam around in the streets of Imphal? At least 14 murderers (who were named in recently filed charge sheet) roaming around in Manipur. What will happen to the society if this is allowed?"

The court, however, did not pass any direction to arrest the accused but left it to the CBI to take "rational" call whether it wants to arrest the accused, take them into custody, send them to judicial custody, or not arrest them.

"Not satisfied" with the pace of investigation into the alleged fake encounter in Manipur, the bench last week had sought personal appearance of CBI director before it on July 30 to decide the steps to be taken to expedite the process.

During the hearing, the CBI chief told the court that five more final reports will be filed in separate cases by August 31.

Target is complete probe in 41 cases, said the CBI chief adding that charge sheets in 20 more cases will be filed by the year end and probe in remaining 14 cases will continue.

"By your estimate we don't see light in this till March 2019," said the bench while observing that progress in investigation was "pathetic", and questioned such slow pace of progress.

"We are dealing with human lives..." the court added while telling the CBI chief that it already has all the basic material and information with it as issue has been dealt by the NHRC, there was Commission if Inquiry, judicial inquiry, and the Justice Santosh Hegde report.

Attorney General K.K. Venugopal, appearing for the CBI, told the court that "system" slowing down the CBI and it has to follow CBI manual as per which it has to go through six-seven step vetting.

The bench then cut short to three the six-seven steps of scrutiny process.

It also ordered inclusion of more officer in the SIT to "expedite" the investigation, and posted the matter for hearing on August 20 also asking CBI chief to remain present in court on that day.

The court also pulled up CBI for filling FIRs against dead persons, who were victims.

Last week the bench had said it was tired of the agency's "snake and ladder game" and it was not satisfied with the pace of the probe while summoning its director to explain about the timeline and also about the manner of the probe.

It was upset with the CBI on its failure to submit final investigation reports, which the CBI has assured to be filed by July 27, but during Friday's hearing, the CBI had instead wanted more time to file final reports.

The court was hearing a PIL seeking a probe into as many as 1,528 cases of extra-judicial killings in Manipur.

On July 14, 2017, the apex court set up the Special Investigation Team (SIT) comprising CBI officers and ordered registration of FIRs and investigation into the alleged extra-judicial killings in Manipur.

The court had ordered the registration of FIRs in 81 cases including 32 probed by a Commission of Inquiry, 32 investigated by judicial authorities, 11 in which compensation was awarded and six probed by the commission headed by former Supreme Court judge Santosh Hegde.