Guwahati, July 6: If criminals try to escape from custody or snatch arms from the police then Shooting at criminals “should be the pattern” said Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma.

Justifying a series of encounters reported in Assam since he assumed office, Sarma endorsed zero-tolerance to crime against women, well-equipped law-keepers, error-free charge sheet writing, among other things.

Several incidents of shootouts, which have seen at least a dozen suspected insurgents and criminals being shot dead as they “tried to escape” from custody, have triggered a political storm in the state.

“If an accused tries to snatch the service gun and run away, or even simply flee, and on top of it he is, says, a rapist, the law allows shooting at such a person on the leg, but not on the chest,” Sarma said at the first-ever face-to-face meeting with the Officers In-Charge (OCs) of all police stations of Assam.

“When someone asked me whether shooting incidents are becoming a pattern in the state, I replied that (shooting) should be the pattern if it involves a criminal trying to escape police custody,” he said.

Sarma, who is also the state’s home minister, said the law has allowed the police to shoot at accused or criminals if they open fire first or try to escape.

Also Read: Show zero tolerance towards crime against women and work diligently: Assam CM tells state police

“But before doing what law has permitted us to do, we must keep our conscience clear that our work is for the good of the people and not to serve any interest of our own,” the CM said.

“Police has no authority for encounters. In a democracy, crime is fought through law and not encounter. These happen only when there are no other means,” he later told reporters.

At least 12 suspected terrorists and criminals have been shot dead in the state since May after they reportedly tried to escape from custody, while several others, including rape accused and cattle smugglers, were injured.

The rising number of encounters since the new government came to power on May 10 has drawn sharp reactions from the opposition which alleged that the Assam Police has turned “trigger happy” under the Himanta Biswa Sarma-led regime.