Chandigarh: A sharp war of words has broken out between the ruling Congress and the Shiromani Akali Dal in Punjab over who is responsible for pardoning four police officers convicted for the fake encounter of a Sikh youth during the state’s militancy years.
The police officers, three from Uttar Pradesh and one from Punjab, were ordered to be freed by Governor V.P. Singh Badnore on 19 June, barely four years since they began serving their life sentences.
The question being raised is who initiated the ‘pardon file’. Sukhpal Singh Khaira, president of the Punjab Ekta Party, has alleged that it was SAD president and former deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal, in his capacity as home minister, in 2016. But Badal has “dared anyone” to prove that he ever signed a file of pardon to cops who killed a Sikh youth.
Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa, senior Congress leader and Punjab’s cabinet minister for jails, said “there is no doubt” that the move was initiated during the SAD-BJP regime in 2016, but it did not have the signatures of the minister concerned or the chief minister.
Twenty-two-year-old Harjit Singh was kidnapped on 6 October 1993 by Punjab Police assistant sub-inspector (later promoted to inspector) Harinder Singh from his village Saharan Majra in Ludhiana district. He was killed in a fake encounter in Sitapur, Uttar Pradesh, by three UP policemen — Ravinder Kumar Singh, an SP-rank officer, inspector Brij Lal Verma and constable Onkar Singh — on the intervening night of 12 and 13 October 1993.
The UP government had awarded the entire team for the “act of bravery”. Apart from a cash award, the policemen were given out-of-turn promotions.
When the police failed to register a case, Harjit’s father Mohinder Singh approached the Punjab and Haryana High Court in 1994, which ordered a CBI inquiry in 1996. The CBI registered a case in August 1998, and on 1 December 2014, a CBI court in Patiala convicted the four policemen and sentenced them to life imprisonment.
“It was also a classic case of connivance between the Punjab and UP Police in eliminating the Sikh youth. Mohinder Singh is a poor farmer who lost everything in the judicial battle against ‘encounter specialists’, and was not even contacted before giving pardon to killers of his son,” said Khaira, adding that he will launch a state-wide agitation against the move.
Mohinder Singh, who went to meet Governor Badnore last week, has sought the case file. “I want to challenge what the governor has done in the court. The governor did not meet us. We have left a representation with his officers,” he said.
Khaira’s claims and allegations
Khaira said official records have revealed that Governor Badnore had issued orders to pardon the guilty cops on 19 June 2019, based on the jail record of 12 January 2017 for the UP policemen and 3 January 2017 for the Punjab policeman. This was when the SAD-BJP government was still in power.
“This was barely two months before the assembly elections,” said Khaira, adding that the governor’s order clearly mentioned that all convicted policemen had undergone only two years of imprisonment when the then-DGP Suresh Arora recommended their release.
Khaira said Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh was equally guilty for the pardon granted to the killer policemen, since his government processed the case moved by the SAD-BJP government.
“Finally, the governor ordered the release of the cops on the recommendations of Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh and DGP Dinkar Gupta,” said Khaira.
Jail minister Randhawa said the file was indeed moved by the home secretary in November 2016, during the Akali regime. “But the file had neither the signs of the concerned minister nor of the chief minister. The move was blatantly illegal and it is shocking that the governor did not even check who had moved the file,” said Randhawa.
“I have the files now and I am looking at them. If the move is illegal, I will be making a case for the reversal of the pardon.”
The governor’s secretary J.M. Balamurugan said his office had not received any review request from the government. “The file is no longer with us,” he said.
War of words
Denying the allegations vehemently, Sukhbir Badal said in a statement: “Spreading such canards is abominable.”
Badal said the file making out a case for pardon to the four policemen did not come to him for consideration in any manner whatsoever. “I would also like to make it clear that there is no question of me signing any such file,” he added.
Hitting out at CM Amarinder over the issue, the SAD president asked the government to come clean and lay all the facts before the people.
“It should be ascertained as to in whose term the file was sent to the governor, and in whose term the order to grant pardon to the killer cops was implemented,” he said.
Badal also tweeted an offer to approach Union Home Minister Amit Shah to overturn the “unjust pardon”.
Khaira said Badal was lying through his teeth. “Sukhbir Badal played a cruel joke with the family of Harjit Singh and his statement that he would take a delegation to meet Union Home Minister Amit Shah against the release of the killer cops is a hoax,” he alleged.
Meanwhile, RTI activist and advocate H.C. Arora has written to the governor, seeking reconsideration of the pardon granted to the policemen.