Rajnish Rai is no stranger to the consequences of investigating cases of staged encounter killings. Rai, a 1992 batch officer from the Indian Police Service, first courted controversy in 2007, during his tenure as the deputy inspector general (DIG) of the Crime Investigation Department of Gujarat. In April that year, he arrested three senior IPS officers—DG Vanzara, Rajkumar Pandiyan and MN Dinesh—for the fake encounters of a gangster, Sohrabuddin Sheikh, and his wife, Kausar Bi, in November 2005. By May 2007, Rai was taken off the investigation, so that—according to a report in The Hindu—he could be prevented from “putting the arrested senior IPS officers to more embarrassment.” He was instead posted as the DIG of the State Crime Records Bureau, a non-executive post, which was followed by a transfer to another non-executive posting as the principal, Police Training (Chowky) in Junagadh. His superiors, PC Pande, then the director general of police in Gujarat and OP Mathur, who was the CID (Crime) chief, downgraded the review of his performance in his annual confidential report for the period between 1 April 2007 and 22 August 2007 from “very good” to “average.” In April 2008, the officials of Gujarat University claimed that Rai had cheated in the LLB examinations that he had appeared for and declared him failed in all subjects. (He challenged the university in the Gujarat High Court, which ruled in his favour.) A decade after he made the arrests that have since hounded his career, Rai is in the limelight once again.
In a letter dated 17 April 2017, which was first reported by the Indian Express, Rai—who is now the Inspector General of Police with the Central Reserve Police Force (North Eastern Sector)—alleged that a killing of two suspected insurgents in March was not an encounter, as the security forces involved in the operation had claimed, but “pre-planned murders.” Lucas Narzary, alias N Langfa, and David Islary, alias Dayud, believed to be from the militant organisation National Democratic Front of Bodoland (Songbijit), or NDFB (S), were killed on the intervening night between 29 and 30 March. Two units of the CRPF—the 156 Battalion and the 210 Batallion of the Commando Battalion for Resolute Action (CoBRA), a specialised division of the CRPF—filed special situation reports regarding the deaths. According to these, a joint operation conducted by these units, along with the Assam police, the Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB), and the Sikh Light Infantry of the Indian army, in Simlaguri, in the district of Chirang, resulted in the death of the two men. The reports stated that the team conducted this operation in the early hours of 30 March based on the information that members of the NDFB(S) would be present in the area that night. At around 4.30 am, the reports claimed, a police party stationed at Simlaguri road noticed a group of four of five people who were approaching the road from Mandarguri, and resorted to “indiscriminate firing” when the troops challenged them. The forces retaliated in self-defence. In the exchange of fire that ensued, two from this group were killed and subsequently identified as Narzary and Islary. The reports also stated that the team recovered arms and ammunition from the bodies of these two men, which included a rifle, several live rounds and empty cases of ammunition and a Chinese hand grenade.
According to Rai's letter, soon after he was appraised of the operation, the Commandant (operations) of the North Eastern Sector informed him that there appeared to be discrepancies between the version that had been narrated in the CRPF reports and the events that had transpired. A senior officer from the CRPF—whose name has not been disclosed in Rai's letter—confirmed the same to him. Rai informed his superiors at the CRPF about the inconsistencies and asked the senior officer to prepare a confidential report on the incident. The report offered a startling conclusion regarding the encounter: that there had been none.
Rai then asked another officer from the CRPF to conduct a discreet enquiry to verify the facts that had been brought to light by the confidential report. The officer conducting this enquiry interviewed nine witnesses and accessed nine documents—these included the reports that the two units of the CRPF had submitted and the first information report that had been filed at the police station in Amguri, which falls under Chirang district.
The enquiry, Rai's letter states, essentially revealed that a team from the CRPF and the Assam police had first reached Digoldong village, also known as D-Kalling—where they had been told that the suspected militants were stationed—and identified the house in which Narzary and Islary were staying. Upon entering, the team found the two men and young boy asleep in the house. (The letter stated that a woman from the adjacent house said that the boy was her son, and that the team “allowed her to take the young boy away.”)