India Resources

The State of Encounter Killings in India

The first comprehensive report on the subject provides information and analysis on the history and scale of encounter deaths in India, the modus operandi of a fake encounter, the license given to kill, analysis of the failure of the judiciary and the NHRC to effectively address fake encounter killings, the status of encounter killings in Uttar Pradesh, 42 emblematic fake encounter cases adjudicated by the NHRC, and national and international human rights law on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extra-legal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions.


Executive Summary

I felt betrayed by then PM Chandra Sekhar after 21 Khalistani militants I arranged to surrender were killed. Never spoke to him after that.” – Current Chief Minister of Punjab, Captain Amrinder Singh wrote in a tweet on 17 May 2017 on fake encounter killings during the insurgency in Punjab from 1985 to 1995.[1]

A classic case of “Target, Detain, Torture and Execute” policy

On 9 October 2018, the Summary General Court Martial of the Indian Army held at the 2nd Infantry Mountain Division at Dinjan in Dibrugarh district of Assam sentenced seven convicted army personnel viz Major General A K Lal, Colonels Thomas Mathew and R S Sibiren, and junior commissioned officers (JCOs) and non-commissioned officers (NCOs) Dilip Singh, Jagdeo Singh, Albindar Singh and Shivendar Singh to life imprisonment for torture and extra-judicial killing of five leaders of the All Assam Students Union (AASU) in a fake encounter on 22 February 1994.[2] Following the killing of Rameshwar Singh, general manager of the Assam Frontier Tea Limited at the Talap Tea Estate by the cadres of the outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), troops of the 18th Punjab Regiment based at Dhola in Tinsukia, Assam had picked up nine innocent youths from their houses in Tinsukia district’s Talap area on the mid-night of 17 February 1994 ostensibly to extract information about the ULFA.[3] A habeas corpus petition was filed before the Gauhati High Court on 22 February 1994 which directed the army to produce the nine youths immediately before the nearest magistrate.[4] However, the Army had brutally tortured five out of nine youths viz Prabin Sonowal, Pradip Dutta, Debajit Biswas, Akhil Sonowal and Bhaben Moran with their tongues sliced, eyes gouged out and kneecaps smashed, and bodies bearing evidence of electric shocks as per the post mortem reports.[5] As the five youths could not be produced before the nearest magistrate following brutal torture, the army personnel shot them dead in order to hide the torture, released the remaining four youths in different locations of the district and handed over the dead bodies to the Dhola Police Station alleging to be the dead bodies of the members of the ULFA killed in an encounter along with certain arms and ammunitions shown to have been recovered from these youths.[6]

The inquiries by Assam Police, the Army Court of Enquiry and two Magistrates of the Assam government found the version of the accused Army personnel to be true and that ‘the counter insurgency operation was done in exercise of the official duty’.[7] However, the inquiry by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) under the direction of the Gauhati High Court brought out the truth[8] and led to filing of the chargesheet against 7 (seven) Army personnel in the Court of Special Judicial Magistrate, Kamrup under Section 302/201 read with Section 109 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC) in 2002.[9] The competent Authority in the Army sought immunity under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958 (AFSPA) which was denied by the Special Judicial Magistrate on 10.11.2003 and the Gauhati High Court on 28.3.2005 and an appeal was filed before the Supreme Court against the order of the High Court. On 1 May 2012, the Supreme Court in its judgment directed the competent authority in the Army to “take a decision within a period of eight weeks as to whether the trial would be by the criminal court or by a court-martial and communicate the same to the Chief Judicial Magistrate concerned immediately thereafter”.[10] The Army decided to try them under military law through a court martial.[11] The court-martial proceedings began on 16 July 2018 and concluded on 27 July 2018. The quantum of punishment was pronounced on 13 October 2018.[12]

Fake encounters are part of the unofficial State policy: NHRC

India faces serious armed conflicts and not all encounters are fake. At the same time, fake encounter killing has been the undeclared official State policy irrespective of whichever party is governing at the Centre or at the State and the same has been recognized by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), the High Courts and the Supreme Court. In 2004, the NHRC stated,

The Commission’s directive for an inquiry into encounter deaths by State police officers does not inspire confidence since such extra-judicial killings have virtually become a part of unofficial State policy”.[13]

The State actually justifies fake encounter. India’s capital Delhi does not face any insurgency or major law and order issues. Yet, with respect to the fake encounter death of alleged criminals viz Ayub, Aslam, Manoj, Sanjay and Shehzad Babu at the hands of the Delhi Police on 5 May 2006 after being picked up from their respective homes, the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi declined permission for a CBI enquiry after the Magisterial Enquiry Report (MER) raised doubts over the genuineness of the encounter and recommended a CBI enquiry. The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) also declined permission for a CBI enquiry on the ground that “a CBI enquiry was not needed as the said criminals were involved in 74 heinous crimes before said encounter”. Further, when the NHRC reluctantly accepted the denial of the CBI inquiry but asked as to why monetary compensation to the next kin of the victims not be paid, the MHA “opposed award of compensation on the ground that the persons who were killed had serious criminal records and providing relief to the next of kin of such dreaded criminals would amount to providing incentive for such criminal activities and send a wrong signal”. Rejecting the contention of the MHA, the NHRC vide its proceedings dated 5 February 2014 reminded the MHA that under the Indian laws, criminals cannot be summarily executed and “the only criminal activity that had been plausibly established in this case was the murder of five men by policemen appointed to uphold the law, not to break it”.[14] If that is the position of the Government of India with respect to proven fake encounter of the alleged criminals in Delhi, one can imagine the situation in armed conflict situations which relate to national security and territorial integrity. The State actually had incentivised encounter killings by giving out of turn promotions for encounter killings, prohibited following the Supreme Court judgment in 2014.[15]

Independent India follows colonial British policy to authorize extrajudicial executions

On 15 August 1942, colonial British government promulgated the Armed Forces Special Powers (Ordinance) authorising “Commissioned Officers not below the rank of Captain in the army, to use force if necessary to the extent of causing death of a person who fails to halt when challenged by a sentry or who attempts to destroy property which the Officer has been deputed to protect”[16] to suppress the Quit India Movement launched by Mahatma Gandhi a week earlier.[17] On the day of independence on 15 August 1947 the Governor General of India issued Disturbed Areas (Special Powers of Armed forces) Ordinance in Bengal, Assam, East Punjab and Delhi to authorize “any commissioned officer, warrant officer or noncommissioned officer to fire upon or otherwise use force, even to the causing of death” to quell the riots that took place during the partition. These Ordinances were replaced by the Armed Forces Special Powers Act of 1948 and the 1948 Act remained in force till 1957.[18] A year later in 1958, India enacted the Armed Forces [Assam and Manipur] Special Powers Act to deal with the Naga insurgency.

Fake encounters in insurgency situations

The phrase “to fire upon or otherwise use force, even to the causing of death”[19] has come to mean giving licence to kill. As insurgency that started with the ethnic Nagas spread to Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura in the North East by late 1970s and Punjab and Jammu & Kashmir by the 1980s, the AFSPA was promulgated in all these States. However, encounter killings are carried out not only in the areas declared to be “disturbed” under the AFSPA but in Naxal affected areas as well. The response to the killing of police inspector Sonam Wang Di in Naxalbari under Darjeeling district of West Bengal during a raid in April 1967 was killing of 11 civilians by the Assam Rifles in fake encounters.[20] The West Bengal government executed thousands of alleged Naxalites in fake-encounters in 1960s and 1970s and the ultra-left wing extremism in India came to be known as the Naxalism. Fake encounter killings became the undeclared policy of the State in conflict situations but there are no official statistics as the State always justified all encounters as genuine. Anecdotal evidence suggests that thousands have been killed in fake encounters in independent India. In the Naxal conflict in West Bengal in 1960s and 1970s, according to official figures, “65 constables were killed and over 3,500 youths, sympathizers, family members died in police firings, encounters, and political clashes”.[21] In a letter dated 22 July 1999, the Director General and Inspector General of Police of Andhra Pradesh wrote to the NHRC suggesting that the encounter death cases of Andhra Pradesh may be got investigated by the officers of the rank of Inspectors of other districts, instead of the CID as “nearly 250 encounters take place each year in Andhra Pradesh and that the State CID would not be able to cope with this additional burden with the available staff”.[22] The NHRC examined “illegal killing and disappearances” which culminated in the cremation of 2,097 bodies in Amritsar, Majitha and Tarn Taran districts between 1984 and 1994 during insurgency in Punjab.[23] The Supreme Court has been hearing a PIL seeking probe and compensation in the alleged 1,528 extra-judicial killings in Manipur from 2000 to 2012 by security forces and police.[24] J&K also witnessed unprecedented extrajudicial executions since late 1980s. Even the Joint Special Task Force of State of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu formed for apprehending Veerappan, a sandalwood smuggler, killed “36 persons allegedly in “suspicious encounters” as per the NHRC.[25]

Fake encounters to deal with peacetime law and order situation

Indeed, encounter killings have become routine to deal with crimes in peacetime situations. The three writ petitions filed before the Bombay High Court by the People’s Union for Civil Liberties questioned genuineness or otherwise of nearly 99 encounters between the Mumbai police and the alleged criminals resulting in death of about 135 persons between 1995 and 1997.[26]

The NHRC started recording encounter deaths from 1997 onwards. In the last two decades i.e. from 1 April 1998 to 31 March 2018, the NHRC registered a total of 2,955 complaints of encounter deaths i.e. an encounter almost every second day. The largest number of encounter deaths during this period took place in Uttar Pradesh with 1,004 encounter killings i.e. 34% of the total cases, followed by Assam with 521 encounter cases i.e. 18% of the total cases, Chhattisgarh (239), Maharashtra (148), Andhra Pradesh (127), Jharkhand (108), Meghalaya (89), Orissa (71), Delhi (64), Manipur (62), West Bengal (61), Uttarakhand (59), Rajasthan (54), Haryana (50), Karnataka and Bihar (48 each), Tamil Nadu (38), Arunachal Pradesh (25), Punjab (22), Gujarat (14), Jammu and Kashmir (10), Tripura and Telangana (6 each), Kerala (5), Himachal Pradesh (2), and Andaman & Nicobar (1). Indeed, top 10 States with encounter killing have reported 2,494 cases of encounter deaths constituting over 84% of the cases. States such as Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, Haryana, Karnataka and Bihar, Tamil Nadu, Punjab and Gujarat which witnessed high incidents of encounter deaths did not face insurgency in the last two decades.[27] In fact, Delhi had more encounter killings than West Bengal.

Further, only 10 encounter deaths being reported from J&K during 1998-1999 to 2017-2018 expose the limitations of the data collated by the NHRC.[28]

Modus operandi of fake encounters

In overwhelming majority of cases, the victims of fake encounter deaths are first targeted either as insurgent/terrorist, symphatiser or supporter of insurgents/ terrorists or as wanted criminals with bounty on their heads. The targets are detained or taken into custody, interrogated and tortured to extract confession or leads, and thereafter, killed in a staged encounter, often by planting a weapon on the persons killed to show the firing in self defense or to prevent fleeing. Fake encounters are also carried out for revenge, settle rivalries or disputes, not giving bribe, promotion or gallantry awards or simply trigger happy nature of the law enforcement personnel.

Fake encounters are staged at odd hours, in the most desolate places without any witness and where witnesses exist they are subjected to threat and intimidation. It is the law enforcement personnel who are executioners, witnesses and complainants in the FIRs filed against the persons executed. Proper and impartial investigation seldom takes place and in a number of cases as cited in this report, the State is willing to provide compensation instead of allowing impartial investigation by the CBI such as the rejection of NHRC’s recommendation for the CBI inquiry in fake encounter death of four persons in Dehradun, Uttarakhand on 24 August 2006[29] and in the fake encounter death of Ayub, Aslam, Manoj, Sanjay and Shehzad Babu in Delhi on 5 May 2006.[30] Where proper and impartial investigation takes place, the State protects the culprits by denying permission under Section 197 of the Criminal Procedure Code or Section 6 of the AFSPA to prosecute the accused law enforcement personnel.

Supreme reluctance to decisively address fake encounter killings

The NHRC way back in 1996-1997 stated that it “considers the practice of “fake encounters” to be unconscionable”. The NHRC also stated, “It cannot permit the right to private defense, spelt out in Chapter IV of the Indian Penal Code, to be manipulated to justify “fake encounters”, or the procedures of Section 46(3) of the Code of Criminal Procedure to be subverted to, serve such an end.”[31]

The Supreme Court in a judgment on 13 May 2011 while upholding the cancellation of bail to police officers arrested for fake encounter killing stated,

in cases where a fake encounter is proved against policemen in a trial, they must be given death sentence, treating it as the rarest of rare cases. Fake`encounters’ are nothing but cold blooded, brutal murder by persons who are supposed to uphold the law. In our opinion if crimes are committed by ordinary people, ordinary punishment should be given, but if the offence is committed by policemen much harsher punishment should be given to them because they do an act totally contrary to their duties.” The apex court held that those who execute in fake encounter based on illegal orders must also be charged for murder, and if found guilty be sentenced to death. The apex court also held that “The `encounter’ philosophy is a criminal philosophy, and all policemen must know this. Trigger happy policemen who think they can kill people in the name of `encounter’ and get away with it should know that the gallows await them”.[32]

Despite such observations, the fake encounters continue unabated because of the failure of the NHRC and the Supreme Court to act decisively.

In hundreds of cases of fake encounters, the NHRC recommended to the authorities for payment of compensation to the next kin of the victims[33] but it failed to intervene with the courts for prosecution of the accused either on its own motion or with permission of the court with its findings and opinion.[34] While the State governments regularly challenged the orders of the NHRC before the High Courts and the Supreme Court, the NHRC failed to challenge the decision of the governments to reject inquiry by the CBI in proven cases of fake encounters such as the fake encounter death of four persons in Dehradun, Uttarakhand on 24 August 2006[35] and the killing of Ayub, Aslam, Manoj, Sanjay and Shehzad Babu in alleged fake encounters by the Delhi Police on 5 May 2006.[36] The NHRC’s measures have therefore been half-hearted.

Similarly, the Supreme Court despite declaring its 16-point requirements / norms to be followed in “all cases of death and grievous injury in police encounters” in People’s Union for Civil Liberties & Anr Vs State of Maharashtra & Ors[37] as the law under Article 141 of the Constitution of India had actually failed to decisively tackle the menace of killing in fake encounters and has delivered regressive judgments.

First, the full bench of the Andhra Pradesh High Court delivered its historic judgment[38] on 6th February 2009 making it mandatory for registration of an FIR “where a police officer causes death of a person, acting or purporting to act in discharge of official duties or in self-defense as the case may be”. However, a three-judge Bench of the Supreme Court stayed the judgment on 4 March 2009 on an appeal[39] filed by the Andhra Pradesh Police Officers’ Association. The appeal was part heard on 08.04.2016 and thereafter the appeal was not listed for hearing. The appeal is yet to be adjudicated almost one decade after filing.[40]

Second, the Supreme Court delivered its judgment in People’s Union for Civil Liberties & Anr Vs State of Maharashtra & Ors[41] on 23 September 2014 and issued 16-point guidelines to deal with encounter death cases. Though in the said judgment, the Supreme Court held that fake encounter killings “amount to State-sponsored terrorism”, it accepted the argument of the State to direct merely registration of an FIR instead of directing to file the FIRs against policemen involved in the encounter. This meant justifying the current practice i.e. registration of the FIR against the dead person on the charge of attempted murder of police officers and as the accused is already dead, s/he cannot defend and police exonerate themselves.[42] Further, the apex court directed that the encounter killings be investigated by the CID or a police team from another police station despite apex court itself in numerous decisions handing over the investigation to the CBI.[43] The order also restricted the authority and scope of the NHRC and empowered the police to choose to send the immediate information either to the NHRC or the State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) with most SHRCs being non-functional and having little capacity to adjudicate on such cases.[44] The Supreme Court further stated that the intervention of the NHRC is not necessary unless there is serious doubt about the independence and impartiality of the investigation. Having no alternative, the NHRC filed a Writ Petition[45] on 1 December 2014 before the Supreme Court challenging the judgment dated 23 September 2014 but the petition is yet to be heard.

The stay of the judgment of the Andhra Pradesh High Court[46] dated 6th February 2009 means effective stay on the mandatory registration of FIRs against police personnel causing the death of a person. The failure to adjudicate the Writ Petition filed by the NHRC in December 2014[47] also means limiting the mandate and role of the NHRC only to cases where !there is serious doubt about the independence and impartiality of the investigation. Uttar Pradesh with no insurgency or national security threats had recorded the highest number of encounter killings in India in the last two decades with no impact on the crime rate but it has effectively adopted encounter killing as the State policy since March 2017. The result has been cold blooded murder of executive of Apple, Mr Vivek Tiwari[48] in the early morning of 30th September 2018 and inviting media persons to witness the encounter between alleged criminals and the police at Aligarh’s Harduaganj on 21 September 2018 in which two alleged criminals were shot dead,[49] raising serious questions about the genuineness of the encounter.


In order to effectively deal with the menace of fake encounter killings, Asian Centre for Human Rights recommends the following to the Government of India:

– Amend the Code of Criminal Procedure to provide for mandatory registration of the First Information Report (FIR) where a public servant causes death of a person, acting or purporting to act in discharge of official duties or in self-defense as the case may be;

– Ratify the UN Convention Against Torture and place the Prevention of Torture Bill of 2017 drafted by the Law Commission of India on 30 October 2017 on reference from the Ministry of Law & Justice, Government of India before the parliament for its immediate enactment;

– Repeal and/or amend the Armed Forces Special Powers Act 1958 to delete “use force if necessary to the extent of causing death of a person”;

– Review Section 46 of the Code of Criminal Procedure and similar legislation in all states regarding use of force, including the exceptional use of lethal force, by all security officers to ensure compliance with international human rights law principles of proportionality and necessity;

– Amend Section 197 of the Code of Criminal Procedure and Section 6 of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act or its analogous provision applicable to Jammu and Kashmir, to make every decision on the denial of prior sanction from the government before cognizance can be taken of any offence by a public servant for criminal prosecution subject to judicial review; and

– Place a mechanism of regular review and monitoring of the status of implementation of the directives of the Supreme Court and the NHRC on fake encounter deaths.


[1]. Amrinder Singh’s fake encounter tweet: On DSGMC’s complaint NHRC demands clarity from Punjab Government, 6 July 2017 available at

[2]. Three officers, four soldiers sentenced to life for 1994 fake encounter in Assam, Times of India, 15 October 2018; available at :

[3]. Life term for army men in Assam ‘fake counter’, Deccan Herald, 14 October 2018;
available at :

[4]. Ibid

[5]. 1994 Assam fake encounter: Major General, six others get life term, The Hindu, 14 October 2018 available at

[6]. Judgment of the Supreme Court of India dated 1 May 2012 in Criminal Appeal No. 257 of 2011 with Criminal Appeal No.55 of 2006 in General Officer Commanding Versus CBI & Anr

[7]. Ibid

[8]. Three officers, four soldiers sentenced to life for 1994 fake encounter in Assam, Times of India, 15 October 2018; available at :

[9]. Judgment of the Supreme Court of India dated 1 May 2012 in Criminal Appeal No. 257 of 2011 with Criminal Appeal No.55 of 2006 in General Officer Commanding Versus CBI & Anr

[10]. Ibid

[11]. Three officers, four soldiers sentenced to life for 1994 fake encounter in Assam, Times of India, 15 October 2018; available at:

[12]. Ibid

[13]. National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Report on Prevention of Atrocities Against Scheduled Castes & Scheduled Tribes, 2004, p.106 available at

[14]. National Human Rights Commission, Annual Report 2013-2014

[15]. Judgment dated 23 September 2014 in People’s Union for Civil Liberties Versus State of Maharashtra (Criminal Appeal No.1255 of 1999)

[16]. Armed Forces Special Power Act 1958 and Human Rights Abuses in Nagaland, Shodhganga, chapter_203.pdf

[17]. The Armed Forces Special Powers Act: A brief history, Aljajeera America, 8 March 2014
available at

[18]. Supreme Court of India’s judgment dated 27 November 1997 in Naga Peoples Movement for Human Rights Vs Union of India available at

[19]. Ibid

[20]. Ashis K Biswas, Embers Of A Revolt Thirty years on, the Naxal movement is lost in its place of origin, The Outlook, 11 June 1997 available at

[21]. Ibid

[22]. National Human Rights Commission, Annual Report 1999-2000

[23]. Punjab Mass Cremation Case: NHRC Orders Relief, The Outlook, 3rd April 2012, https:/

[24]. SC orders CBI probe into Manipur extra-judicial killings, The Hindu, 14 July 2017 https:/

[25]. National Human Rights Commission, Annual Report 2006-2007

[26]. Judgment dated 23 September 2014 in People’s Union for Civil Liberties Versus State of Maharashtra (Criminal Appeal No.1255 of 1999)

[27]. Rights & Risks Analysis Group, “Press Release: 2,955 Police Encounter Deaths Registered During 1998-2018, RRAG Calls For National Commission Of Inquiry Into Encounter Deaths”, 1 October 2018 available at

[28]. Ibid

[29]. National Human Rights Commission, Annual Report 2013-2014

[30]. Ibid

[31]. National Human Rights Commission, Annual Report 1996-97

[32]. Supreme Court judgment in Prakash Kadam & Etc. Etc vs Ramprasad Vishwanath Gupta & Anr on 13 May 2011 in Criminal Appeal Nos.1174-1178 of 2011 arising out of SLP (Criminal) Nos. 3865-69 of 2011

[33]. In December 2012, the NHRC informed the Supreme Court that it had awarded compensation in 191 cases of fake encounter killings during 2007-2012, see The Times of India, “191 fake encounters in last five years, NHRC tells Supreme Court”, 5.12.2012

[34]. Section 12(b) of the Protection of Human Rights Act empowers the NHRC to “intervene in any proceeding involving any allegation of violation of human rights pending before a court with the approval of such court.”

[35]. National Human Rights Commission, Annual Report 2013-2014

[36]. Ibid

[37]. People’s Union for Civil Liberties & Anr Vs State of Maharashtra & Ors, 23.09.2014,
available at :

[38]. A.P. Civil Liberties Committee (APCLC) Vs The Government of A.P & others WRIT PETITION Nos : 15419 of 2006; 26358 of 1999; 7906 of 2000; 14475 of 2002; 440 of 2003 and 857 of 2008

[39]. Special Leave to Appeal (C) Petition No. 5933/2009, A P Police Officers Association Versus A P Civil Liberties Committee

[40]. For the case status the Supreme Court website was accessed on 15.10.2018.

[41] . People’s Union for Civil Liberties & Anr Vs State of Maharashtra & Ors, 23.09.2014, available at :

[42]. See “Showing weak judgment” by Colin Gonsalves, The Indian Express, 25.9.2014,, & “Not enough, Your Honour””, Deccan Herald, 5.10.2014,

[43]. Ibid

[44]. “Of encounter killings, SC & human rights”, By Satyabrata Pal, The Tribune, 2.10.2014,’6

[45]. W.P.(C).001012/2014 National Human Rights Commission Vs Union of India and others

[46]. Special Leave to Appeal (C) Petition No. 5933/2009, A P Police Officers Association Versus A P Civil Liberties Committee

[47]. W.P.(C).001012/2014 National Human Rights Commission Vs Union of India and others

[48]. Constable in UP shoots dead Apple executive in cold blood, The Indian Express, 30 September 2018

[49]. Aligarh Encounter Victims’ Family Allegedly Faces ‘House Arrest’ and ‘Sexual Harassment’, Newsclick, 11 October 2018 available at

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