[Anis Khan death] Calcutta High Court finds no fault with SIT investigation, no transfer of probe

Given that the SIT implicated police officers in Anis' death, the apprehension of his father that the accused police officers would be shielded by the police is devoid of merit, the Court held.
Anis Khan, Calcutta High Court
Anis Khan, Calcutta High Court

The Calcutta High Court recently accepted the report submitted by the Special Investigation Team (SIT) that probed the death of social activist and student leader Anis Khan, who was found dead outside his home in Howrah’s Amta area in February this year. [Salem Khan v. State of West Bengal]

Finding no need for transfer of the investigation to any third agency, Justice Rajasekhar Mantha noted that the SIT followed the Standard Operating Procedure for investigation and also based their probe strictly on the best practices.

Noting that all material including statements under Sections 164 and 161 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), and forensic and medical reports were adduced as evidence during the probe, the Court held,

"The evidence, according to the SIT, points to acts and omissions of a set of persons including police personnel. Lapses on the part of the raiding party and the raid itself have been found faulty by the SIT. The prima facie findings against such persons are plausible, and the same is subject to the trial and findings of the Sessions Court."

The Court further held that the apprehensions of Anis' father that the probe would be compromised, were unfounded. The order stated,

"In the instant case, the SIT itself has implicated some police officials in its investigation report, finding fault with the manner and conduct of raid. The petitioner’s apprehension that the accused police officers would be shielded by the police, is therefore devoid of merit. In the facts of the case, merely because some police officers are involved there is no need for apprehending of impropriety in the investigation or the trial as the SIT is comprised of very highly ranked police personnel."

Anis was allegedly killed on the night of February 19 this year, when policemen and social workers barged into their house. While one of them spoke to his father on the ground floor, the others went upstairs on the terrace of the house situated on the second floor and pushed him down after assaulting him.

He was a public-spirited person who was active in protests regarding various issues such as the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), National Register of Citizens (NRC) and even the most recent Hijab ban controversy that took place in Karnataka.

The High Court had, in February this year, taken suo motu cognizance of the matter, noting that it was a grave and emergent situation.

Anis' father had subsequently claimed that owing to his participation in protests, his son was seen was an eyesore for the ruling government in the State. The raid conducted on that fateful day was thus part of a conspiracy to eliminate Anis, he claimed. Further, he contended that the SIT, comprising three senior IPS officers of the State, had failed to probe the conspiracy angle in the case.

He thus sought for the matter to be investigated by an independent probe agency outside the State, fearing that those responsible for his son's death would not be brought to book.

In his judgment, Justice Mantha accepted the findings of the SIT. He noted that the run-ins with the law that Anis had in 2017 and 2021 could not be related to his death.

"...There is a long time-gap between the incidents in question and the death of the victim. The causal connection between the said incidents and the death appears to be rather remote."

The judge further noted that Anis' father didn't mention anything of the conspiracy theory in his Section 161 and 164 CrPC statements.

"No reference was made to any political vendetta for the death of his son. This Court does not, therefore, find fault with the SIT in not having considered the conspiracy angle worthy of any investigation," the judge held.

What remained to be considered, the Court noted in its judgment, was the immediate trigger that had prompted the raid which resulted in Anis' death.

The SIT report revealed that the Social Media Monitoring Cell of the Howrah Police District, after identifying certain "inflammatory posts" on Facebook, had initiated an inquiry into the same. These posts were related to the volatile situation in the State amid protests against the Hijab issue which originated in Karnataka.

It was found that around 25 persons responsible for such posts were traced contacted, and made to remove the posts. Proceedings under Section 107 of the CrPC were drawn up against a few other persons. In this context, the Bench noted,

"The Howrah Police, therefore, zeroed down on a few remaining posts and their Facebook account holders. Given the public-spirited background of the deceased and his Facebook posts, it is quite plausible that the Howrah Police might have been on a lookout to identify and access the deceased."

After conducting an investigation, the SIT found evidence that five police officers were guilty of offences under Sections 120(b) [punishment of criminal conspiracy], 452 [house-trespass after preparation for hurt, assault or wrong­ful restraint], 304A [causing death by negligence] and 341[punishment for wrongful restraint] of the Indian Penal Code.

While accepting the SIT report, the Court called for a chargesheet to be drawn up against the accused police officers immediately. The trial in the case was directed to be commenced and concluded expeditiously, not later than six months from the date of committal.

Before parting with its judgment, the Court made it clear,

"When the trial commences, the Sessions judge shall proceed to deal with the same independently, completely uninfluenced by the observations made hereinabove. This Court’s observations and findings as above are only for the purpose of addressing the prayers made by the petitioner in this writ petition, and not for any other purpose."

Senior Advocate Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya along with Advocates Rabi Sankar Chatterjee, Samim Ahammed, Imteaz Ahammed, Saloni Bhattacharya, Gulsanwara Pervin, Sabyasachi Chatterjee, Kaustav Bagchi, Debayan Ghosh, Priti Kar, Debolina Sarkar, R Mukherjee and Akashdeep Mukherjee appeared for the petitioner.

Advocate General SN Mookherjee along with Senior Advocate Amitesh Banerjee and Advocates Ayan Bhattacharya and Sandip Dasgupta, Raja Saha, Saaqib Siddique and Aviroop Mitra represented the State.

Additional Solicitor General Billwadal Bhattacharyya, along with Advocates Kallol Mondal and Samrat Goswami represented the CBI.

[Read Judgment]

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