Explaining the series of encounters in Assam since he assumed office, Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma on 5 July asserted that shooting at criminals “should be the pattern” if they attempt to escape from custody or try to snatch arms from the police to open fire.
A rising number of encounters, which have seen at least a dozen suspected insurgents and criminals being shot dead as they “tried to escape” from custody, has whipped up a political furore in Assam.
“If an accused tries to snatch the service gun and run away, or even simply flee, and on top of it he is… say, a rapist, the law allows shooting at such a person on the leg, but not on the chest,” Sarma said at the first-ever face-to-face meeting with the officers in charge of all police stations of Assam.
“When someone asked me whether shooting incidents are becoming a pattern in the state, I replied that (shooting) should be the pattern if it involves a criminal trying to escape police custody,” he said.
Sarma, who holds the home portfolio, said the law has allowed the police to shoot at accused or criminals if they open fire first or try to escape.
“But before doing what law has permitted us to do, we must keep our conscience clear that our work is for the good of the people and not to serve any interest of our own,” the chief minister said.
Under the normal procedure, an accused will be served a charge sheet and convicted, he said, adding, but if someone tries to escape, “we will take a zero-tolerance approach”.
“Police has no authority for encounters. In a democracy, crime is fought through law and not encounter. These happen only when there are no other means,” he later told reporters.
At least 12 suspected militants and criminals have been shot dead in the state since May as they reportedly tried to escape from custody, while several others, including rape accused and cattle smugglers, were injured.
The opposition, reacting to the incidents, alleged that Assam Police has turned trigger happy under the Himanta Biswa Sarma-led regime.
The state police, however, refuted the charge, claiming that it was the criminals who forced its personnel to resort to firing.