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2 days before model code, Haryana elevated wife of judge hearing Kathua case to info panel

3-member panel headed by CM Khattar cleared the name of Kamaldeep Bhandari, wife of the judge hearing Kathua case, for information commissioner.

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Chandigarh: Haryana’s BJP government appointed Kamaldeep Bhandari, wife of the judge hearing the Kathua rape case — a politically sensitive issue for the party — to an important statutory post, two days before the model code of conduct kicked in on 10 March.

Bhandari was among the three new information commissioners appointed to the Haryana State Information Commission on 8 March. The other two were Lt Gen. K. J. Singh, a retired GOC-in-C Western Command and Jai Singh Bishnoi, a former Congressman who had joined the BJP in September 2018.

All three will serve a term of five years.

They beat 229 applicants for the post, which included retired and serving IAS officers, in a selection process that lasted nearly a year.

While the appointments were virtually done at the last minute, barely beating the model code of conduct, Haryana had advertised for the posts in June 2018 and August 2018.

Neither the Haryana chief secretary Depinder Dhesi nor the principal secretary to the chief minister, Rajesh Khullar, responded to queries from ThePrint on the appointment. This report will be updated when they respond.

The wife of Kathua case judge

Bhandari, who has served as a member of the Right To Service Commission in Punjab, is the wife of Dr Tejwinder Singh, the district & sessions judge, Pathankot, who has been hearing the sensitive Kathua rape case since July last year.

A PhD in law, Dr Singh began hearing the rape case in May last year after it was shifted from Jammu to Pathankot in Punjab by the Supreme Court.

The case pertains to the rape and murder of a nine-year-old Bakerwal Muslim girl in Jammu in January last year, a horrific crime that had shocked the nation.

The case had divided J&K along communal lines with BJP leaders supporting the accused and questioning the “Kashmir-centric” investigation. It also became a bone of contention between the BJP and the PDP after which the BJP withdrew its support to the Mehbooba Mufti government in June last year.

Also read: One Kathua or Nirbhaya doesn’t make India the most unsafe country, says minister Alphons

The actress and ‘activist’

Bhandari is also an established Punjabi actress, who goes by the screen name Gulchoo Jolly. In a career of more than a decade, Bhandari has acted in several films such as Shareek, Jatt and Juliet-1 among others.

Bhandari, however, is not new to holding a statutory post. She was appointed member of the Right to Service Commission in Punjab in 2016 by the previous SAD-BJP government in the state. She and six others were sworn in as members in September 2016 for a period of five years.

When the Congress came to power in 2017, however, Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh dissolved the commission and dispensed with the services of its members.

Bhandari is a Masters in English, holds a B.Ed degree, and is also an LLB and an LLM.
“She has also engaged in social work serving various underprivileged sections of society. She taught law and English and worked as an educational consultant,” said the minutes of the meeting of the search committee while recommending her name for the position.

IAS and IPS officers ignored

The trio were cleared by a three-member panel of Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar, PWD Minister Rao Narbir Singh and Leader of Opposition Abhay Singh Chautala.

They were among nine names recommended by a search committee headed by the state chief secretary.

Other names on the shortlist included retired IAS officer and former additional chief secretary of Haryana, P. K. Mahapatra; retired Haryana DGP Sudhir Chaudhary; retired IPS officer and former director general, ITBP, R.K. Pachnanda; serving IAS officer Anil Kumar; former judicial officer Kuldip Jain and educationist Dr Anil Kumar Pundir, registrar of the Guru Jambeshwar University in Hisar.

Also read: Kathua rape-murder victim’s family dumps lawyer-activist Deepika Singh Rajawat

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