Stay on Balwant’s sentence hangs on his case

Harbans was convicted of four murders but the superintendent of Bareilley jail refused to hang him

Written by Navjeevan Gopal | Batala | Published: April 2, 2012 3:00 am

Harbans was convicted of four murders but the superintendent of Bareilley jail refused to hang him

His case made the grounds for a stay on the hanging of former Punjab chief minister Beant Singh’s assassin Balwant Singh Rajoana. Meet Harbans Singh,who escaped gallows in a Pilibhit murders case even as one of his co-accused was hanged.

In pink of health at 87,Harbans now grazes a buffalo and resides in a room at a buffalo yard in Batala. His day begins by offering prayers at a gurdwara. He milks the buffalo,takes her out for grazing in the fields and then retires to his room that has an old briefcase,a wooden almirah and an iron trunk containing his belongings. Ask him his age and he says: “I was 22 at the time of Partition.”

The case of Harbans and Rajoana is a complex mix of similarities and dissimilarities. Now,with his case suddenly in the limelight,Harbans is recounting the past and feeling a connection of kinds with Rajoana,praying that the death sentence of the Babbar Khalsa International terrorist is commuted as was the case with him nearly two decades ago.

As the Partiala Central Jail Superintendent Lakhwinder Singh Jakhar had refused to hang Rajoana citing legal reasons,Harbans claimed that then superintendent of Bareilly jail — where he was to be hanged in 1981 — had also refused to hang him saying that the “documents were not complete and he would hang him only after getting all the required documents”.

Though his co-accused Jeeta Singh was hanged on October 6,1981,the superintendent had refused to hang Harbans. “When the jailor refused to hang me,I appealed to my fellow inmates to help me financially so that I can file a writ petition challenging my sentence. Someone gave two rupees,some five and others some more and I filed the writ petition in Supreme Court through lawyer A P Mohanty. The court initially first gave a 8-day stay,then it was extended to 10 and then 90 days. Finally,my death sentence was commuted to life term and I was released after serving nearly 18 years in jail,” he said.

Harbans was convicted of four murders,along with Jeeta Singh,Kashmira Singh and another person he identifies as his brother,who was killed in an “encounter”. “My brother had shot the four persons over a land dispute and we had accompanied him,” he claimed.

After being awarded the death sentence by a Pilibhit court,which was later upheld by the Allahabad High Court,the Supreme Court and even the President,Kashmira and Harbans appealed against the sentence through review and writ petitions in the Supreme Court. While Kashmira succeeded in getting his death sentence commuted to life imprisonment,acting on Harbans’s petition,the Supreme Court stayed his execution and sent back the case to the President while recommending commuting of the death sentence.

Jakhar,while refusing to carry out the Chandigarh court of hanging Rajoana,has cited the Harbans case,underlining among other things that the death sentence of one of the co-accused in the Beant Singh assassination case — Jagtar Singh Hawara — stands commuted to life imprisonment by the high court. He has also submitted that a criminal appeal by the other co-accused,Lakhwinder Singh Lakha,was pending in the Supreme Court.

“A large number of people benefitted from my case and were acquitted. But this is for the first time that my case have came into the limelight (after it helped stay Rajoana’s execution),” Harbans claimed.

But unlike Harbans,Rajoana has not filed any mercy petition and rather has been willing to be hanged. Harbans,however,felt that Rajoana should live. “I pray to the Almighty that Rajoana is released from jail as I was earlier,” he said.

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