Sentenced to life for murder, a convict served seven years, seven months and 14 days before the Punjab government worked out a calculation to release him prematurely “for good behaviour”. Gurmeet Singh “Pinky”, a militant-turned-informer-turned-policeman, was freed on June 24 by an order by the governor following a government recommendation.
Legal experts say a life sentence can mean a lifetime or 20 years, depending on how the order is worded, but prisoners are often released after 14 years, with six years cut for behaviour. Authorities have explained how they added up to 20. “This convict has completed actual seven years, seven months and 14 days punishment and after remission of his punishment he has completed 15 years, seven months and 14 days in jail and four years, four months and 16 days punishment remains which he will spend with peace and harmony,” the Nabha Open Agriculture Jail wrote on July 18 to the father of the murder victim, who had filed an RTI application.
The man, the murder
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In the 1990s, Pinky converted from being a member of Babbar Khalsa to the role of a police informer. His tip-offs, a senior officer said, led to “some successful encounters and the arrest of some terrorists, which earned him a permanent place in the police”.
Taken in as a special police officer, he got promoted to an inspector. He used to be guarded by men with AK-47 rifles. Nine such bodyguards were with him when the murder took place.
Avtar Singh, 21, also known as Gola, of Ludhiana was shot dead on January 7, 2001. Pinky and his men were sitting on the road and drinking, and Gola asked them to make way. Gola’s father Amrik Singh says he rushed to the scene when he heard the men were beating up Gola and his friends. “Before we could intervene, they shot my only son in front of my eyes. The bullet pierced his skull. They shot at me too,” said Amrik Singh.
On January 19, Pinky surrendered. “Pinky threatened us and the witnesses, some of whom turned hostile. He offered us bribes,” said Amrik Singh.
A Yamuna Nagar court sentenced Pinky on October 17, 2006, while acquitting his companions. Pinky then moved the Punjab and Haryana High Court, which rejected the appeal.
“In Pinky’s case, the application of remission could not be accepted before spending 10 years in jail,” advocate Rajwinder Bains said. A government spokesman, however, said the release was in accordance with a policy framed on April 4, 2013: “Male adults who were convicted for murder and have been given life imprisonment as punishment, and have completed 10 years of actual imprisonment can apply for premature release… If a convict has maintained good conduct during conviction period and works in open jail Nabha, that convict also gets benefits of one more year.”
Since January, the government has recommended 164 premature releases and 91 of these convicts are already out.
The jail’s letter to Gola’s father also takes into account the time Pinky spent in jail before his conviction, though it still doesn’t add up to 10 years. Taken into custody on January 19, 2001, he was in jail for over one-and-a-half years until November 2002 when he got bail and stayed out until the 2006 conviction. “He had completed more than 15 years of total conviction and more than nine years of actual conviction,” the letter said.
This has left some lawyers wondering if the authorities have fallen back on a trend during British rule when days and nights were added separately in a sentence. Additional DGP (jails) Rajpal Meena said, however, they count jail terms in 24-hour days. Asked about the jail letter about “actual seven years and after remission 15 years”, he said he cannot comment without seeing it, but stressed nothing wrong has happened.
Jail Minister Sohan Singh Thandal said, “Pinky was released after nine years in jail including over seven years after his conviction and one-and-a-half years during the trial. He was released after following all rules but I have asked jail officials to provide me the file and I will see if any favour was given to him.”
The high court, while upholding the conviction, had noted, “ It was observed that there was enough evidence on record to prove that the investigation of the case was tainted. Every effort was made by the police to create confusion in the case with an intent to cause wrongful gain to the prime accused.”
Pinky was released after he furnished two personal bonds of Rs 30,000 each alongside two similar bonds by two witnesses to a district magistrate.
A letter from the home department, communicating the governor’s order to the Nabha jail, stated that “while Pinky… had yet to complete his determined punishment, his petition for remission of his remaining punishment is accepted under Article 161 of the Indian Constitution”.
Article 161 gives the governor the power to grant pardons, reprieves, respites or remissions of punishment or to suspend, remit or commute the sentence of any person convicted of any offence against any law relating to a matter to which the executive power of the state extends.
Amrik Singh said the family will challenge the decision in the Punjab and Haryana High Court. He views Pinky as “a big threat to the family”.
Inputs by Varinder Bhatia in Chandigarh