If Justice delayed is justice denied then justice hurried is justice buried. It is an irony of fate that both these well established metaphors of legal jurisprudence apply to the just delivered judgment of Honb’le High Court of J&K exonerating DGP Kuldeep Khuda (By the time you read this article he might have well become Chief Vigilance Commissioner of J&K) accused in a fake encounter case.
But let us go to brief facts of the case first. On January 1, 1996, one Mohammad Ashraf, a surrendered militant, employed as an SPO, accompanied a police truck to Batote, where he met Khuda, who was then DIG, Doda-Udhampur range, who instructed the driver, Shadi Lal, to stay with Ashraf. On their return from Batote, Ashraf and his associates “were provided arms and ammunition at Police Post Assar”. On January 3, 1996, Ashraf, his two associates, and his two PSOs, Baldev Raj and Som Nath, took the police truck to Paranoo and Malani villages in Bhaderwah where they kidnapped four villagers, including a father-son duo. Later that night, Ashraf and his associates stopped the truck near Prem Nagar by the Chenab and escorted the four villagers to the river. Three were shot dead; the fourth, Talib Hussain, was pushed into the river. He survived, swam ashore and “exposed” the entire story. The bodies of the three who were shot could not be retrieved.
Following a complaint with National Human Rights Commission, an enquiry was ordered into the matter and Bachan Singh Choudhary, then additional SP in the Crime Branch, appointed for the purpose. He completed his investigation on January 16, 1998, and sent a detailed report to his bosses in the Crime Branch and to then DGP Gurbachan Jagat. The report indicted Khuda and the then SSP, Doda, Kamal Kumar Saini. The report says that the testimony of the survivor, Talib Hussain, Driver Shadi Lal and other clinching documentary evidence established “beyond any shadow of doubt that the operation to get the militants surrendered or to get them captured by using the services of friendly militants was planned by the then DIG Udhampur/Doda range Kuldeep Khoda… which resulted in the gruesome murder of three persons at the hands of one Mohammad Ashraf and his two accomplices….The report indicts Khuda for his tacit approval in getting prohibited Arms (Assault rifles) issued to renegade Mohd. Ashraf and his two accomplices from police post Assar under the garb of VDC members when in fact his two associates were not the members of any such VDC at Assar”.
How Chowdhary, was ill-treated after submission of his report is another tale. He was shunted out to the Railways within a week and was later shifted to Kot Balwal jail. Then began the operation “Hush-UP” and case got re-investigated through ASP Shikha Goel, who submitted a report on November, 12, 1998 pointing discrepancies here & there. Goel’s report alleged “tampering of evidence” by the investigating officer, and asked for a more detailed probe.
It is against this factual position that J&K High court has delivered a judgment exonerating DGP Khuda. The Judgment comes at the nick of the time when the ruling dispensation has recommended his name for the post of Chief Vigilance Commissioner post his retirement in-spite of vociferous opposition from leader of opposition Mehbooba Mufti. She has gone even to the extent of alleging recommendation as a quid pro quo for Khuda’s pliant role in Haji Yusuf’s death case & cover up in cricket scam.
The manner in which the Judgment has been delivered leaves a lot to be desired. For the first time the Govt. has taken upon itself the job of publishing the Judgment through Govt. controlled media. It did not want to leave anybody in doubt, not even for a second, that Mr. Khuda has been cleared by the J&K High Court. The coalition of Civil Society, following the case, has alleged that it has been delivered at the appellants back without giving the aggrieved party any opportunity of being heard violating a fundamental principal of natural justice. It has decided to file an appeal against the judgment in the apex Court.
While it is true that justice is the best deterrent and one would love to see it in action, any one conversant with Kashmir, its history & politics knows that is a dream too far for its natives.
(The author is a practicing chartered Accountant. Feed back at email@example.com)