The Supreme Court on Thursday ordered an independent three-member judicial inquiry headed by former SC judge VS Sirpurkar into the Hyderabad encounter following the brutal rape and murder of a woman veterinary doctor on November 27.

The probe panel includes Justice Rekha, a former Bombay High Court judge and former CBI director Karthikeyan.

The Supreme Court further ordered that the inquiry be completed and a report submitted in six months.

“We are of the considered view that there should be an impartial inquiry into the encounter deaths of the four people accused in the gang-rape and murder of a veterinarian in Telangana,” the bench headed by CJI SA Bobde said.

“If you say you are going to prosecute them (policemen involved in encounter) in criminal court, there is nothing for us to do. But if you say they are innocent, then people must know the truth. We don’t want to assume facts. Let there be an inquiry, why are you resistant to that?” the court questioned.

“We are not saying you are guilty, we will order an inquiry and you participate in it,” the bench, also comprising Justices SA Nazeer and Sanjiv Khanna observed.

To this, senior Advocate Mukul Rohatgi appearing for the Telangana Police said that the High Court and the NHRC are seized of the matter.

Rohatgi further argued that in the past too, the court has appointed retired Supreme Court judge to oversee the investigation, but a judge cannot conduct the probe.

On this, the Supreme Court observed that it of the considered view that an inquiry commission needs to be constituted into the matter.

It then ordered that no other court or authority can inquire into the matter until further orders. This means that the eight-member Special Investigation Team (SIT) constituted by the Telangana government to probe the encounter killing of the rape accused and the investigation by the NHRC will now be put on hold.

The court also issued a notice to electronic and print media to refrain from reporting on panel hearings.

A 27-year-old woman veterinary doctor was on November 27 gangraped and murdered near the Tondupally toll plaza in Shamshabad on the outskirts of Hyderabad and her body was dumped and burnt 25 km away at the Chatanpally Bridge in the Ranga Reddy district, sending shockwaves across the nation.

Amid massive protests, the accused were arrested and sent to judicial custody for 14 days.

In the wee hours of December 6, the men were brought to the crime spot to recreate the November 27 incident as part of the investigation.

The police have claimed that the accused attacked them with sticks and then snatched the weapons from them and started firing. The police in self-defence fired back and the four accused got killed.

Opinions have been divided over the encounter killings of the accused. While many have hailed the Hyderabad Police for the act, others including lawyers, politicians and activists condemned the entire incident.

Later, petitions were filed in the Supreme Court seeking registration of an FIR, investigation and action against the police personnel involved in encounter of the four accused.