New Delhi: Police personnel involved in fake encounter killings should be awarded death sentence and hanged, the Supreme Court has said.

A bench of Justices Markandeya Katju and CK Prasad said that police personnel as custodians of law are expected to protect people and not eliminate them as contract killers.

"Fake encounter killings by cops are nothing but cold- blooded brutal murder which should be treated as the rarest of rare offence and police personnel responsible for it should be awarded death sentence. They should be hanged," Justice Katju, heading the bench, said.

The Court observed this while directing the surrender of two senior Rajasthan IPS officers (Additional DGP Arvind Jain and SP Arshad) allegedly involved in the fake encounter killing of an alleged gangster (Dara Singh) by the Special Operations Group of Rajasthan Police on October 23, 2006.

The bench said the accused police officers if they fail to surrender shall be arrested by the CBI which is investigating the case.

"The same parameters will apply and the law shall take its own course," Justice Katju observed when counsel for Singh's widow Sushila Devi said that one of the accused Rajender Rathore, a former Minister, was also absconding.

"...If crimes are committed by ordinary people, ordinary punishment should be given but if the offence is committed by policemen much harsher punishment should be given to them because they do an act totally contrary to their duties."

The Apex Court had in April last year directed a CBI probe on an application moved by Sushila Devi accusing the Rajasthan Police of abducting her husband, killing him in a cold blooded manner and passing it off as an encounter.

According to the Rajasthan government, Dara Singh was a proclaimed offender carrying a reward of Rs 25,000 on his head and was involved in criminal activities. In May, in another case of alleged fake encounter killing of a businessman by Maharashtra Police, the Apex Court said
actions by police cannot be treated as ordinary incidents and exemplary punishment should be meted out to the accused.

"This is a very serious case and cannot be treated like an ordinary case. The accused who are policemen are supposed to uphold the law but the allegation against them is that they functioned as contract killers," it said.

According to the Court, it would not brook any excuse from policemen that they were acting at the behest of their superior officers.

"We warn policemen that they will not be excused for committing murder in the name of 'encounter' on the pretext that they were carrying out the orders of their superior officers or politicians, however high. In the Nuremberg trials, the Nazi war criminals took the plea that 'orders are orders' but nevertheless they were hanged," the bench had said.