Uttar Pradesh (UP) chief minister Yogi Adityanath may endorse encounters as a method to reduce crime, but these are tantamount to extra-judicial killings. That said, for UP, law & order has been a nagging problem. It has consistently been among the worst-affected states, as per National Crime Records Bureau data. A history of poor governance compounds the problem, fuelling popular and political support for the “encounters”. However, as the Maharashtra precedent shows, it doesn’t take too long for trigger-happy police personnel, thanks to the informal incentive system that rewards them for encounters, to transition from “encounter specialists” to hitmen. The UP government and the judiciary at large—right up to the Supreme Court—must find a more efficient way to tackle crime, fugitive criminals and pendency of trials that allows undertrial criminals to continue operating.
Most encounters are attributed to chases to nab criminals and arrested criminals trying to flee custody. Both point to a complex web of underlying problems. Police and the courts are both short-staffed. This is exacerbated by the poor adoption of technology in law & order administration and the courts. In Rajasthan and UP, for every 100 personnel requested for police escort, only 62 are sent, as per RTI data analysed by Amnesty International. UP had over 12,000 undertrials for murder, over 2,400 for robbery, 354 for extortion and over 2,400 booked under the Arms Act at the end of 2015.
The problem of police escort could be solved by eliminating the need for criminals to be produced in courts via video-conferencing. But, of the 14,249 lower courts that were to be fully computerised by 2014, only over 3,003 have been on date. Putting cases involving history-sheeters and heinous crimes on a fast-track, with cases reaching conclusion within, say, a year or two, could address the problem partly. Even with the existing manpower—with proper training—dedicated crack teams for serious crimes and history-sheeters, specialising in tracking/chases and nabbing, can be set up.