Ironically, Telangana is considered the most surveilled state in India accounting for over half of the country’s CCTV cameras.

A press meet held by then Cyberabad Commissioner VC Sajjanar at the encounter site in 2019Press meet by then Cyberabad Commissioner VC Sajjanar at encounter site in 2019
news Police Excess Friday, May 20, 2022 - 16:36

The Sirpurkar commission, which probed the circumstances leading to the extra-judicial killing of the four accused in the case of gangrape and murder of a veterinarian in Hyderabad in 2019, has clearly laid the blame on police officers involved in the incident. Pointing out that there were several lapses in the police’s version of events, the panel also pointed out that authorities did not collect enough CCTV footage to submit to the panel, despite adequate presence of cameras.

The Disha rape and murder took place November 27, 2019 near Shamshabad, which is on the outskirts of Hyderabad and located close to the Rajiv Gandhi International Airport. The victim, veterinarian Disha’s body was found a day later close to Shadnagar, a town located on the Hyderabad-Bengaluru highway. A day later, the police said that they had zeroed in and arrested four accused — Mohammed Arif, Jollu Shiva, Jollu Naveen and Chintakunta Chennakeshavulu. All four of them were shot dead by the police on December 6, 2019 in an agricultural field close to where Disha’s body was found. While the police initially claimed that they had acted in self defence as the accused had attempted to escape, many activists had alleged that it was a case of extra-judicial killing. The commission’s report has now confirmed the same.

The report has also stated that barring Mohammed Arif, the remaining three accused were minors, with two of them aged 15 and one aged 17. The commission has stated that all 10 police officers involved in the incident should be tried under charges of murder under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

Pointing out that there is a “very effective network of CCTV cameras in the state of Telangana even in rural areas, and especially along the highway,” the commission in its report pointed out how even the police, after the arrest of the four accused, said that scientific evidence like CCTV played a crucial role in identifying the suspects and taking them into custody. 

However, “The Investigating Officer, J Surender Reddy has stated that he has not collected any footage of CCTV either from Shadnagar Police Station or Ravi Guest House or enroute Ravi Guest House to the place of the incident,” the commission report stated. The commission report said that the police officers informed the panel that “they did not consider the CCTV footage of any use and therefore they did not make any attempt to collect CCTV footage.”

The commission also stated that even the videos which were submitted to it were not in regular order and were seemingly clipped. “Some of the video footage of the scene of incident are produced before the commission, which are not in seriatim and are very short clippings that appear to be sourced from primary footage. There is no explanation by the state as to why the entire footage is not placed before the commission. The commission observed that apart from the aforesaid lapses, there seems to have been a deliberate attempt to suppress the truth.

Ironically, Telangana is considered the most surveilled state in India accounting for over half of the country’s CCTV cameras, with Hyderabad being the second most surveilled city in the world with 30 cameras for every 1,000 people — more than cities like New York and London. As of January last year, Telangana had 2.82 lakh CCTV cameras, according to data released by the Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPRD).

Read: Why Hyderabad became India’s surveillance capital

The police had earlier claimed that the accused were taken to the spot where the body was found in a bus, in a bid to recreate the crime scene. Officials had also claimed that two policemen were injured in an alleged exchange of fire with the accused, as they had snatched their guns and tried to escape. This claim, too, has been disproved by the commission's report.

The commission said that the Telangana government had not been able to explain the presence of multiple log books in relation to the bus that is said to have transported the deceased suspects. “Further, the absence of original medical records of Care Hospital concerning the injured policemen, the inability to recover all the spent cartridges and also the complete absence of the fired bullets from the scene of occurrence, in the opinion of the commission perhaps cannot be classified as mere lapses in investigation,” the commission said.

“The crucial differences in the positions of the dead bodies and other material objects, and their inter-se differences in the inquest reports and crime scene panchanamas only further our conclusion that the version put forth by the police is not believable,” it added.

The gangrape and murder of the veterinarian in Hyderabad had triggered massive outrage across the country. The extra-judicial killings by the police within a few days sparked a further row, following which the Supreme Court constituted the inquiry commission on December 12, 2019. It was initially supposed to submit a report in six months, but the report was finally submitted in January this year after repeated extensions. Other members of the commission headed by former Supreme Court judge VS Sirpurkar include former Bombay High Court judge Rekha Sondur Baldota and ex-CBI director DR Kaarthikeyan.

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.

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