The Supreme Court on Monday said that cases of alleged fake encounters in Manipur by the army, Assam Rifles and state police involved the issue of "life and death" of people and asked the Central Bureua of Investigation's special investigating team to expeditiously complete its investigations in these matter.
A bench comprising Justices Madan B Lokur and U U Lalit was informed by CBI director Alok Kumar Verma, who was present in the court in pursuance to its direction, that two chargesheets were filed on Monday before the competent court in the encounter cases and five more final reports would be filed by August 31.
Verma said that 14 persons have been chargesheeted in two cases for the alleged offences of murder, criminal conspiracy and destruction of evidence under the provisions of Indian Penal Code.
The CBI director was earlier summoned by the apex court which was unhappy over the "unduly long time" taken by the SIT in probing the cases of alleged extra-judicial killings and fake encounters in Manipur.
During the hearing, the CBI director told the bench that probe in 20 more encounter cases would be completed by December end after which investigation in 14 more cases would be taken up by the SIT.
Senior advocate Colin Gonsalves, appearing for the petitioner, told the court that 14 persons have been chargesheeted in two cases for the heinous offence of murder but no one has been arrested so far.
The bench then asked the CBI director, "Have you arrested anybody during the investigation?"
When Verma said, "No", the bench shot back, "Why? Is there any reason? It means according to you, the murderers are roaming free".
Verma told the bench that no arrest was made in the case primarily because of the reason that there was nothing to be recovered from the accused.
"There are no statements. These cases date back to 1984. All the accused have been chargesheeted based on circumstantial evidences," Verma said.
The court left it to the CBI director and SIT in-charge to take a call on whether those chargesheeted for the offence of murder in these cases were needed to be arrested or not.
The court has posted the matter for further hearing on August 20.
At the outset, Attorney General K K Venugopal referred to an earlier verdict of the apex court and said that the agency has to follow the provisions of the CBI manual.
"I agree that this (probe) has to be done expeditiously. There are 30-year-old cases in this. We have to examine it and see who are accused in these matters. Charge sheets have been filed in two cases this morning. Another two final reports would be filed within this week," he said.
The bench then told Venugopal, "FIRs were filed by the CBI against those who had died or who were victims in these cases".
When Venugopal termed it as "unbelievable", the bench said, "It is unbelievable but it has happened".
Venugopal told the court that FIRs were lodged by the CBI as per apex court's direction and FIRs lodged by the state police were re-registered by the agency.
"For re-registration of FIR, you have taken six months from August last year to February this year," the bench said.
The CBI director explained to the bench about the process of grant of approval on final report filed by an investigating officer after completing the probe in a case.
"You tell us what problems you are facing and how can you expedite it (probe). Tell us if there is anything wrong with the officials and how to fix it," the bench asked Verma.
Verma assured the bench that probe into these cases would be expedited and he would ensure that it was completed in a time bound manner.
"We are dealing with life and death of people," the bench said and referred to cases of commission of inquiry, judicial inquiry and those dealt with by the high court, cases of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and those adjudicated by the Justice (retd) Santosh Hegde commission.
The bench said that materials were available in these cases and questioned as to why SIT was taking so much time in completing the probe.
"We are equally concerned with death and loss of life," the CBI director said, adding, "We are not taking these cases lightly. The Supreme Court has reposed faith on us and given us the investigation. We ensure that investigation would be done fairly".
Verma also said that one more officer would be attached to the SIT.
Terming the SIT probe as "snakes and ladders", the top court had earlier expressed dissatisfaction over the progress made so far and said it would like to know from CBI director what steps must be taken to ensure that the investigation into the cases were completed early and final reports filed "as expeditiously as possible".
The court, which is hearing a PIL seeking a probe into as many as 1,528 cases of alleged extra-judicial killings in Manipur, had on July 14 last year constituted the SIT and ordered lodging of FIRs and probe into them.