Not only Uttar Pradesh, but the country was stunned on reading about the murder of Manish Gupta, a 36-year-old property dealer who was staying at Hotel Krishna in Gorakhpur with two friends. As per media reports, there was a police raid to check the hotel premises for unauthorised stay and other nefarious and undesirable activities. It is alleged that Gupta was assaulted by the raiding party and he died because of his injuries.
It is of course debatable whether the policemen were authorised to conduct a raid. They were there without any search warrants. As a rule, the lower rung functionaries of the police, the constable and sub-inspector, have no authority to check hotel premises. It is generally rumoured that unscrupulous elements in such hotels tip off the police that businessmen are staying in the hotel and carrying huge cash for their usual business transactions. They are accosted by corrupt policemen and blackmailed under some pretext or the other into giving huge amounts of bribes to undesirable elements in the police department.
This tragedy has another dimension; an attempted cover-up of a murder by senior police officials in the district. Initially, the police said that Manish Gupta died because of a fall. It was alleged by the family that the hotel was cleaned to remove the evidence of any scuffle and bloodstains. There is a viral video that shows senior-most officers of the district, SP Vipin Tada and District Magistrate Vijay Kiran Anand, trying to pacify the aggrieved family and convince them to go in for a settlement, knowing that there is no scope for compromise in criminal cases, more so when it comes to police brutality.
It comes as no consolation that six policemen have been suspended including the three who have been booked for murder — SHO Jagat Narayan Singh, SI Akshay Mishra, SI Vijay Yadav. This happened only due to the persistence of the media, and the wife of the deceased who refused to cremate the dead body until her demands for an investigative and compensation was met.
No arrests have been made.
And till date, no disciplinary action has been taken against the senior officers in Gorakhpur. They have not been dismissed or charged with dereliction of duty for the false statements that were made regarding Gupta’s death or for attempting to dissuade the victim’s family from pursuing the matter.
What they should have done is to come down like a ton of bricks on the erring policemen. They should have questioned the veracity of the statement as to why they had gone for the so-called checking in the hotel. They should have seized the CCTV footage, questioned the hotel staff, examined the general diary of the police station, and unearthed the truth.
After a public outcry and the tenacity of the wife of the deceased, the Chief Minister ordered a Kanpur-based SIT to investigate until the matter is taken up by the CBI.
Why was there a shameless and naked attempt to shield the guilty? What were the compulsions? That only a very incisive investigation would show.
But this ugly incident has exposed horrible fault lines in the UP Police. This is not the first time that the police have failed to act in the public interest or hold themselves accountable. In the Kuldeep Singh Sengar rape case on Unnao, there were insidious attempts to shield the guilty. Despite the CBI recommendation that action should be taken against senior administrative and police officers for negligence, nothing has been initiated till now.
The Hathras rape case is another instance of where the police went horribly wrong, as did the administration.
This insidious bungling by senior police officers in UP over and over again, and giving two hoots about the directives of the National Human Rights Commission, is rooted in impunity.
The NHRC has said that the highest number of custodial deaths in the country occur in Uttar Pradesh. And a majority of complaints alleging harassment of human rights defenders come from Uttar Pradesh. The human rights circulars clearly mention if a police officer is involved in human rights violations, a specific entry has to be made in their character record, and if there is a criminal offense, that needs to be vigorously followed. If an officer is involved in human rights violations, they are debarred from important assignments and postings, medals, and other deputations.
Despite such a high incidence of human rights violations, do we have instances of police officers being prosecuted? Sadly, there has not been a single conviction in the last seven years. Under the present circumstances, when there is a premium on being bloodthirsty, and senior officers are willing to be accessories to the crime, there is little hope that the guilty will get punished.
After the Nirbhaya rape case, the 13th Criminal Law Act was introduced, and under Section 166A is the Indian Penal Code, those who are found negligent in registering cases pertaining to gender and sexual offenses will be prosecuted. That was in 2013. To date, not a single case under Section 166A has been chargesheet or a police officer penalized for these lapses in UP. Are we to presume that there is total Ram Rajya and everything is hunky-dory.
If you are not acting on provisions of the law, so carefully introduced by the Justice Verma Committee, if you choose to give an escape route to the culprits of Gorakhpur, if you chose to look the other way in the Kuldeep Sengar case, if the DM in Hathras goes unpunished, then you are not serving the public.
Every government servant, when they join service, has an allegiance to the rule of law and to the Constitution of India. The police officers are not part of a private militia. They are accountable to the people. Constant training, an upgrade of professionalism, is imperative.
Vikram Singh is a retired IPS officer and a former DGP of Uttar Pradesh. The views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author.