Hashimpura Tragedy | 16 PAC personnel accused of “targeted killings” convicted in an attempt to avert “systematic failure and misscariage of justice”: Del HC

“Prolongation of the trial for over two decades, compounded by the endemic systematic delays, have frustrated the attempts at securing effective justice for the victims.”

Delhi High Court: The Division Bench comprising of S. Muralidhar and Vinod Goel, JJ. while witnessing an appeal in the case of “targeted killings of persons belonging to one minority community” known as the ‘Hashimpura Tragedy’ convicted the 16 accused PAC personnel who were acquitted 28 years after the incident by the trial court and now convicted after 31 years of injustice served to the families of the victims left behind.

The cold-blooded murder despatched to the watery grave of around 42 to 45 men of which 38 did not survive, old and young, all Muslim by the Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) was the tragedy of Hashimpura, Meerut. These men were all taken by the PAC personnel in a truck by dividing them into two separate groups which resulted in two different incidents, one taking place at the Ganga Nahar and other at Hindon. In 1987, the said incident took place when paramilitary and military forces had been posted due to the occurrence of riots in Meerut district for riot control and security. Survival of 5 men who witnessed the horrific tale is the reason for the justice served in the present case.

The criminal justice process concerning the murders commenced with the registration of two FIR’s and further, the investigation being handed over to the Crime Branch, Criminal Investigation Department (CB-CID), Uttar Pradesh. Supreme Court by its orders in 2002 and 2007 had transferred the trial of the cases to Delhi. Trial meandered for over 8 years and finally, the judgment on 23-3-2015 was pronounced in which the 16 remaining accused were acquitted. Aggrieved by the acquittal, 3 appeals were filed.

The High Court on noting the submissions including the intervenors (NHRC) along with the trial court’s judgment, concluded its decision by convicting the 16 accused PAC personnel who were acquitted by the trial court due to the non-identification of both the trucks in which 42-45 men were abducted and killed.

“This case points to the systematic failure that results, not infrequently, in a miscarriage of justice.”

The Court stated that “we are conscious that for the families of those killed, this is perhaps too little, too late. They have had to wait for 31 years for justice.” The only basis on which the trial court had acquitted the accused was due to no proof for the truck URU 1493 being used in the incident. The trial court was also not at fault as the benefit of additional evidence as attained by the High Court was not with the trial court and therefore the trial court held that:

“No clinching evidence on record without infirmities on the circumstance relating to identity of the truck and accused persons and therefore, the accused persons cannot be convicted on the basis of scanty, unreliable and faulty investigation which has gaps and holes.”

Nonetheless, the High Court now with the benefit of additional evidence convincingly established the accused persons were very much present with the truck URU-1493 in which the victims were abducted and taken away. Accepting the suggestion of NHRC, the court recommended that every SLSA should designate a Nodal Officer to address the needs of the victim families in the case of custodial killings or state excesses.

Accordingly, the appeal was disposed of by convicting the abovesaid accused and sentenced them to life imprisonment for the offence punishable under Section 302 read with Section 120-B IPC along with Sentence for other offences which were directed to run concurrently. [Zulfikar Nasir v. State of U.P.,2018 SCC OnLine Del 12153, decided on 31-10-2018]

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