Indian boy shot dead in police crossfire

Police in Uttar Pradesh and other Indian states have been accused of faking suspect 'encounters' to carry out extrajudicial killings

An eight-year-old boy was shot and killed in police crossfire as he played outside with friends in northern India, an officer said Thursday.

It is not clear who fired the bullet that hit Madhav Bharadwaj, who was with his grandfather when he was shot late Wednesday as police apparently took on suspects in a robbery.

Rajesh Kumar Sonker, superintendent of police in the Mathura district of Uttar Pradesh state where the incident took place, told AFP an investigation was underway.

"We are probing the case and will soon get to know how the child got hit and killed," he said.

Villagers, however, told local media that only police were shooting.

"Three policemen came to the village and asked the (suspects) to gather at the terrace of a nearby temple for a talk. But suddenly the cops began firing," the boy's grandfather told the Times of India newspaper.

"My poor grandson was playing nearby and got hit. I froze for a moment. I was unable to understand what had happened."

The boy's cousin told AFP the three police officers fled the scene after he was hit.

"They ran away. We have one of the policemen's jackets and their motorcycle with us," said Manmohan Bharadwaj.

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath offered his condolences to the family and compensation of 500,000 rupees ($7,835).

The state has one of the highest crime rates in India, an issue that Adityanath pledged to tackle with tough policing when he was named chief minister last March.

Rights groups have however accused him of abusing his power after he reportedly said at a rally that criminals would "either be sent to jail or killed in police encounters".

Police in Uttar Pradesh and other Indian states have been accused of faking "encounters" with suspects to carry out extrajudicial killings.

"Even if the law and order situation is grave, the state cannot resort to such mechanism," India's National Human Rights Commission said in a statement responding to Adityanath's comments.

Uttar Pradesh police have killed 33 people since Adityanath came to power, according to figures in the Indian Express newspaper.