Three civilians ‘killed’in fake encounter, 15-yr report back to haunt Kuldeep Khoda

By: Muzamil Jaleel
Srinagar: Breaking his silence after 15 years, a former Jammu and Kashmir police officer has alleged that his inquiry report into a fake encounter in which three civilians were killed and thrown into the Chenab was buried by the government because he had exposed the role of Kuldeep Khoda, now the state’s director-general of police.
Bachan Singh Choudhary, who was then additional SP in the Crime Branch, has claimed there was clear evidence to show that those behind the killings enjoyed Khoda’s patronage, were accompanied by policemen, used weapons given by the police, and used a police truck to kidnap and subsequently kill the civilians.
And that just like with the Poonch encounter last week, a special police officer (SPO) was identified as the fall guy — who too escaped punishment. Two other police informers, Tanvir Hussain of Kokernag and Abdul Sattar of Anantnag, who were part of the “kidnapping and subsequent murder” of the civilians are still “absconding” in police records. No action was ever initiated against the accompanying policemen, including the driver — a special grade police constable — of the police truck.
Speaking to The Sunday Express, Khoda dismissed the “baseless allegations”. It was a case of a “source taking police for a ride to settle his personal scores and killing the civilians”, he said.
According to Choudhary’s report, obtained by The Sunday Express, on January 1, 1996, one Mohammad Ashraf, a surrendered militant employed as an SPO, accompanied a police truck to Batote, where he met Khoda, who was then DIG, Doda-Udhampur range.
Khoda 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”.
The report says that 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, says the report. He survived, swam ashore and “exposed” the entire story, says the report. The bodies of the three who were shot could not be retrieved.
A year and a half after the incident, Choudhary was asked to investigate the murders by the then DGP Gurbachan Jagat after the victims’ families approached the National Human Rights Commission. When contacted, Jagat, who is now governor of Manipur, said he does not remember the details of the incident.
Earlier, the police had registered a case of kidnapping and murder at Bhaderwah, and even arrested Ashraf, the prime accused, but had stopped short from probing the role of the police.
Choudhary completed his preliminary investigation on January 16, 1998, and sent a detailed report to his bosses in the Crime Branch and to DGP Jagat. The report indicted Khoda and the then SSP, Doda, Kamal Kumar Saini.
“All hell broke loose after I submitted the report,” Choudhary told The Sunday Express. “Every top officer went after me. I was shifted out of the Crime Branch within a week, and was pressured to relinquish charge immediately. I had investigated the case and brought out how the crime had been committed under Khoda’s direct patronage. I had to suffer for doing so, and the cash was hushed up.”
Choudhary said he was shunted out to the Railways within a week of submitting his report, and was later shifted to Kot Balwal jail.
In his report, Choudhary had concluded that Ashraf “had gained free access” to senior officers including Khoda, and would travel in police vehicles with PSOs provided by the local police, “freely without any inhibition”.
“(Ashraf’s) meeting with Shri Kuldeep Khoda, the then DIG Batote, before and after the gruesome killing of three civilians is a grim pointer to the situation that such an irresponsible person (Ashraf) was given such a long rope by the then DIG (Khoda). In case, he (Ashraf) was at all required to be utilized either for getting some of the militants surrendered or captured, the DIG (Khoda) ought to have deputed a proper police contingent under the command of some responsible police officers to accomplish the task…,” the report says.
“The clout of the accused (Mohammad Ashraf),” it adds, “can be easily gauged from this fact also that against all norms he had been issued with a prohibited weapon (assault rifle) and collection of two more rifles with ammunition by him for his other two associates from police post Assar under the garb of VDC members becomes all the more reprehensible when in fact his two associates were not the members of any such VDC at Assar”.
The report says that the testimony of the survivor, Talib Hussain, and 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…
“It speaks volumes (on the) negligence on the part of the then DIG Udhampur/Doda range (Khoda) because even after knowing this from the driver of the police truck provided to the friendly militants that they have committed such a heinous crime, he didn’t bother to get the accused persons arrested…”
Chowdhary’s report says that the driver, Shadi Lal, testified that he was asked by Khoda to stay with Ashraf. He also told Crime Branch investigators that Ashraf and his associates were supplied with arms and ammunition at the Assar police post.
Lal said Ashraf and his PSO had put the four civilians in his truck, and told him to drive towards Thatri. “Once we reached Prem Nagar, Ashraf stopped the truck and got down along with the civil people and his associates and asked me (driver Shadi Lal) and PSOs to remain there on the road till he returned… After half an hour of their departure, we heard the sound of gunshots towards the river,” Lal said.
Ashraf returned after an hour and asked the driver to proceed towards Kishtwar where they reached at midnight. The next day (June 4, 1996), Ashraf asked Shadi Lal to go to Batote, where he had to meet DIG Khoda.
“The driver then himself met the DIG (Khoda) and apprised him about the whole story. He informed the DIG (Khoda) that Ashraf and his associates had lifted civil people from Paranoo and murdered them near Thatri and their dead bodies were thrown into the river Chenab. The witness further deposed that the DIG (Khoda) asked him to take Ashraf and his associates along to Doda to meet the SSP,” says the report.
The report contains the statement of Baldev Raj, Ashraf’s PSO, who corroborates Shadi Lal’s statement.
After Choudhary’s transfer, there investigation was taken up by ASP Shikha Goel, who submitted a report on November, 12, 1998. The report referred to Choudhary’s report, and several other testimonies of police and civilian administrative officers. Goel’s report pointed to “tampering of evidence” by the investigating officer, and asked for a more detailed probe.
Finally, on December 4, 1999, the then SSP, Crime, Jammu, wrote to the then DGP, saying there were discrepancies in the statements made by the civilians and police officers during the Crime Branch re-investigation, and closed the case.
Subsequently, in a letter dated April 4, 2000, the NHRC said it had no further role as the case was already in court, and closed its own case as well.
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