The bench asked the CBI chief and SIT-incharge to arrest and hold custodial interrogation of the accused if required. The judges also asked Verma to appear for the next hearing on August 20.

The Supreme Court on Monday yet again pulled up the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) over the agency’s slow pace of the investigation into the alleged extra-judicial killings by security forces in Manipur, asking it to arrest and hold custodial interrogation of the accused if required.

“According to the CBI, there are at least four murderers roaming free in Manipur. What will happen to the society if this is allowed?” a Bench of Justices M B Lokur and U U Lalit asked.

The statement the judges came after CBI director Alok Verma, who was summoned today, said 14 persons have been chargesheeted for alleged murder, criminal conspiracy and destruction of evidence in the fake encounter cases.

Verma, who was pulled up for the delay in probe last week as well, said that two chargesheets have been filed by the CBI Special Investigation Team (SIT) and five more are expected to be filed by the end of August. The director assured the bench that investigation of 20 cases will be completed by the end of the year.

The CBI chief was directed to appear for the next hearing on August 20.

Last week, the court had expressed its disapproval after the CBI claimed to have completed investigation in seven out of 41 cases. The Indian Army, Assam Rifles and the Manipur Police have been accused of fake encounter killings in 1,528 cases from 2000 to 2012 in the insurgency-hit state.

Two weeks ago, the top court had directed the CBI director to form a team of officers to conduct the probe. In April, 282 cases were referred to the Supreme Court for verification, prompting the bench to direct the Centre to distinguish those related to the armed forces, including the Army and Assam Rifles. Similarly, it had asked the Manipur government to examine and segregate the cases related to the local police.

Based on a public interest litigation, the Supreme Court in 2016 had ordered a thorough probe into the alleged killings, observing that the use of “excessive or retaliatory force” by the armed forces or police was not permissible in “disturbed areas” under the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Acts (AFSPA). It also noted that “democracy would be in grave danger” if citizens were killed merely on suspicions that they were enemies of the state.

In its contention, the Centre said an internal inquiry had already been conducted by the Human Rights Division of the Army and the Defence Ministry. To this, the apex court had said that it did not possess accurate and complete information on each of the 1,528 cases over the last 20 years.

The Army too had contested the Supreme Court’s decision, saying it cannot be subjected to FIRs for carrying out anti-militancy operations in insurgency-prone areas like Jammu and Kashmir, and Manipur.

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