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SC transfers Hyderabad encounter case to Telangana HC, allows making of enquiry commission report public

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New Delhi, May 20: The Supreme Court on Friday ordered sharing of the sealed cover report of a three-member inquiry commission on the encounter killings of four accused in a case of gang-rape and murder of a veterinarian in Hyderabad, and transferred the matter to the Telangana High Court for further action.

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A bench comprising Chief Justice N V Ramana and Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli did not agree to the submissions of senior advocate Shyam Divan that the report be kept in a sealed cover.

"This relates to the encounter case. There is nothing to keep here. The Commission has found someone guilty. We want to send the matter to the high court," the bench said.

"We have to send the case back to the high court, we cannot monitor this case. A detailed report is submitted. Question is what is the proper action to be taken. They have made some recommendations," the bench said, adding, "We direct the commission secretariat to provide a copy of the report to both parties..."

Earlier, the bench had refused to share with lawyers the sealed cover report for the time being of the Commission headed by apex court judge Justice (since retired) V S Sirpurkar which probed the encounter killing of the four accused.

It, however, had directed its registry to provide a copy of the report submitted by the Justice Sirpurkar inquiry panel to the judges on the bench.

"Let us go through the report first," the CJI had said while expressing reservation to share the sealed cover report for the time being with the lawyers concerned.

Prior to this, the top court, on August 3, last year, had granted the extension of six months to the Commission, headed by former apex court judge V S Sirpurkar, to file the final report on encounter killing of the four accused in the case of gang-rape and murder of the veterinarian.

The Sirpurkar panel was set up on December 12, 2019, to inquire into the circumstances leading to the encounter and was to submit the report in six months.

The other members of the Commission include former Bombay High Court judge Rekha Sondur Baldota and ex-CBI director D R Karthikeyan.

The term of the inquiry panel has now been extended thrice. It was extended in July 2020 for the first time for six months.

While appointing the panel, the top court had stayed the proceedings pending in the Telangana High Court and the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) in the case and had sought an SIT report, saying no other authority shall inquire into the matter pending before the Commission till further orders.

It had ordered that security to the Commission shall be provided by the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and the six-month deadline for submission of the report by the Commission shall start from the first day of the hearing and it shall have all the power under the Commission of Inquiry Act for conducting an inquiry into the December 6, 2019, encounter deaths.

The top court had noted that "conflicting versions about the incident demand an inquiry to uncover the true facts".

It had directed that the panel would sit at Hyderabad and all the expenses including for the secretarial staff would be borne by the Telangana government. Further, the state would render all assistance required by the Commission.

Two petitions were filed in the Supreme Court, one by lawyers G S Mani and Pradeep Kumar Yadav, and the other by advocate M L Sharma, seeking an independent investigation against the police officers concerned.

The PIL, filed by Mani and Yadav, claimed that the alleged encounter was "fake" and an FIR should be lodged against police officers involved in the incident.

The Telangana Police had said the accused were killed in an exchange of fire. The incident took place around 6.30 am when the accused were taken to the site of the offence for the reconstruction of the scene of the crime as part of the investigation.

The four accused -- Mohammed Arif, Chintakunta Chennakeshavulu, Jolu Shiva, and Jollu Naveen -- were arrested in connection with the gang-rape and murder of veterinary lady doctor in November 2019.

The four accused were shot dead on NH-44 near Hyderabad -- the same highway-- where the charred body of a 27-year-old veterinarian was found.

The police had claimed that on November 27, 2019, the woman veterinarian was kidnapped, sexually assaulted, and later found murdered.

It had said that the accused had subsequently burned the body of the woman.

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