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SC snubs Modi on encounter policy

New Delhi, May 8: The Supreme Court today threw out a plea by the Narendra Modi government to set up a special task force to probe all encounter deaths as part of a uniform countrywide policy, saying such a directive wasn’t possible in a federal structure.

Chief Justice R.M. Lodha and Justices Madan B. Lokur and Kurien Joseph said it couldn’t direct the Centre to set up such a task force or frame a policy like the one Gujarat wants as law and order was a state subject.

“Why has the state come here? In a federal structure how can there be a uniform policy? Law and order is a state subject. What justification is there for court intervention in a matter like this?” Justice Lodha asked Hemantika Wahi, the counsel for the Gujarat government.

The state had filed the petition last year in the wake of the controversy over the fake encounter killings of “gangster” Sohrabuddin Sheikh and Mumbai teen Ishrat Jahan and her three friends, who were branded Lashkar operatives on a mission to eliminate the BJP’s Prime Minister candidate.

Modi’s critics have targeted him and his lieutenant Amit Shah over the deaths, prompting the state to take the stand that although encounter killings were taking place in various parts of the country, Gujarat was being singled out with CBI probes. Which is why it wanted a directive to the Centre to “frame a uniform policy” to deal with “all kinds of encounter killings”.

Shah, a former Gujarat home minister, was yesterday virtually given a clean chit by the CBI in the Ishrat case, with the agency saying it didn’t have “sufficient evidence” to chargesheet him.

The court had earlier sought responses from the Centre, states, Union territories and the National Human Rights Commission on Gujarat’s petition. Today, when the court asked the Gujarat government’s counsel why it should intervene in a matter like this, the lawyer said the state’s only plea was there should be a uniform national policy to deal with encounter deaths.

“It (uniform policy) will disturb the federal structure, therefore you have to first cross this hurdle,” the court said.

The counsel said the issue was sensitive and needed the court’s intervention.

“Sensitive matter requires a cool and calm consideration,” Justice Lodha said. “How can (the) Union of India or the central government be directed to form a uniform policy? Every state has its own policy because it has its own unique problems.”

The bench said the question was of jurisdiction and the Constitution. “You have to justify what courts can do in a matter like this. But then there has to be constitutional parameters. How is it possible in a constitutional scheme of things?”

In response to queries from the bench, counsel from states like Odisha and Tamil Nadu said they didn’t agree with Gujarat’s request.

As Wahi couldn’t advance further arguments, the court dismissed the petition in a terse order.