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SC takes cognisance of officer's killing during demolition drive

Last updated on: May 02, 2018 22:33 IST

An assistant town and country planner was killed in Kasauli when a hotel owner allegedly opened fire on the demolition team.

IMAGE: Vijay Singh, in brown shirt, owner of one of the hotels, who allegedly shot dead assistant town and country planning officer Shail Bala Sharma, in blue, in Kasauli during demolition drive, seen talking to her hours before the incident. Photograph: ANI

The Supreme Court on Wednesday pulled up the authorities for their failure to ensure safety of government officials after a woman officer was shot dead allegedly by a hotel owner in Kasauli town of Himachal Pradesh when she had gone to supervise the demolition of unauthorised constructions, dubbing it a "brazen act".

"We might stop passing any orders if you are going to kill people," a bench of Justices Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta said after the matter was mentioned before it.

 

It also asked the state government why the police could not stop the alleged assailant from fleeing the spot after shooting the officer.

Assistant town and country planner Shail Bala Sharma had on Tuesday gone to supervise the demolition of unauthorised construction at Kasauli's Narayani Guest House where its owner Vijay Singh allegedly shot at her. She later succumbed to injuries.

Dubbing the incident as "extremely serious", the top court pulled up the authorities for their failure to ensure safety of officials and said it was quite clear that there was "absolutely no regard" for the rule of law as the public servants had gone there to do their work as per the directions passed by the apex court.

"It is quite clear that some of the appellants (hotels, guest houses) are acting with complete impunity and have absolutely no regard for the rule of law or the orders of this court," the bench said.

"Insofar as Vijay Singh, owner of Narayani Guest House is concerned, he has committed a brazen act of defiance of the order of this court amounting to a challenge and has allegedly killed one officer in broad daylight who went to implement the orders of this court," the court said.

"This is something extremely serious and we are of the view that suo motu notice of contempt of court must be issued in this matter and we do so accordingly," it said.

The apex court was informed that an official of public works department had also sustained severe injuries in the firing incident and was undergoing treatment at Chandigarh.

When the counsel representing Himachal Pradesh told the bench that police officials were also accompanying the public servants during the demolition drive, the bench shot back, "what were they (policemen) doing? Watching her (victim) get killed?".

"One question has to be answered. When he (hotel owner) fled, police officials should have apprehended and stopped him. The police official does not get hold of him. Why? How did he just flee (from the spot)? They (government officials) were implementing our order," the bench asked the counsel.

The counsel said the demolition drive was going on "peacefully" where two guest houses, including Narayani Guest House, are located side by side.

He said after having lunch, Sharma went to Narayani Guest House with two other officials where the owner allegedly opened fire and when the persons present there tried to catch hold of him, he fled the spot.

"That does not seem to be borne out from the video and the newspaper reports," the bench observed.

However, senior advocate P S Patwalia, who is assisting the court as an amicus curiae, told the bench that officials associated with the demolition work at Kasauli were being threatened.

At the outset, advocate Surya Narayan Singh, who had earlier appeared for the state in the National Green Tribunal where Kasauli hotels matter was initially going on, mentioned the incident before the bench and said Sharma was shot dead when she had gone to comply with the court's order.

He said as per reports, an arrest warrant was issued earlier against the hotel owner as he had threatened to commit suicide if his property was sealed or demolished.

However, the counsel representing the state said that demolition work was going on as per the court's order and they would file an affidavit in this regard.

The court directed that the matter to be placed before the Chief Justice of India on the administrative side on Wednesday itself for assigning it to an appropriate bench for hearing Thursday.

The apex court had on April 17 directed the state government to demolish unauthorised structures in several hotels and guest houses in Kasauli and Dharampur areas of Solan and four teams were constituted by the authorities to carry out the work.

The deceased was heading one of the teams and the hotel owners had allegedly attempted to intimidate them to stop the demolition drive, the police had said.

The apex court had earlier ordered demolition of illegal constructions at several hotels and resorts in the picturesque town of Kasauli, saying life of people cannot be endangered for making money.

Several hotels, resorts and guest houses in Kasauli had approached the apex court against the NGT's order to demolish or close down several such establishments which were extended illegally without approvals.

The NGT had also imposed hefty fines on many of them for causing irretrievable damage to the ecology, polluting the environment and raising unauthorised constructions. The order had come on a plea by an NGO, Society for Preservation of Kasauli and its Environs.

 
 
 
 
Shooter continues to evade arrest

Vijay Singh continued to evade arrest even as police carried out searches and announced a reward of Rs 1 lakh for clues.

Initial probe showed the accused Vijay Singh was a state electricity board employee, a police official said adding the guest house in Kasauli area that he may have been running was registered in the name of one of his family members.

The police released Singh's photograph and announced a Rs 1 lakh reward for clues on his whereabouts, officials said.

Intensive combing operations were on in the forest area where he is learnt to have fled, they added. 

A hotel owner who spoke to the accused few minutes before the shooting incident had been detained, a source said. 

Singh's mother Narayani said her son had looked disturbed. 

"His mind was disturbed for the past many days but I neither saw him opening fire nor do I know who killed her (the officer). We did everything the authorities asked us to do,” said Narayani, after whom the guest house was named. 

The body of Shail Bala was handed over to family members after post-mortem and forensic examination. She was cremated at her native village in Ghumarwin in Bilaspur district, officials said.

The state government announced an ex-gratia of Rs 5 lakh to the next of kin of the deceased.

Meanwhile, an enquiry into the incident, to be conducted by divisional commissioner, Shimla, was ordered, officials said.

The enquiry report will be submitted within 15 days, they added. SP, Solan, has also held a preliminary enquiry into the alleged lapses, they said.

Demolition operations, suspended after the shooting on Tuesday, resumed under heavy police protection with senior officers camping in Kasauli. Prohibitory orders under section 144 of CrPC were in place near Narayani Guest House where the incident took place.

Additional forces were rushed to all demolition sites to ensure there was no violence. 

Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur expressed shock and grief over the killing of Shail Bala and warned that such incidents would not be tolerated and the culprit would be nabbed soon. 

He said law and order would be maintained in the state at all cost and the orders of the Supreme Court would be followed in the letter and spirit. The government would submit a report in the Supreme Court on Thursday, he added.

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