The Punjab and Haryana High Court on Tuesday acquitted senior Akali leader Bibi Jagir Kaur and three other convicts in the case of forcible abortion and abduction of Jagir Kaur’s daughter, who had died under mysterious circumstances in April 2000.
Ruling on the appeal filed by Jagir Kaur and other accused against their 2012 conviction, the Punjab and Haryana High Court, in its 76-page verdict, trashed the CBI evidence bit by bit and said the investigating agency’s prime witnesses were planted and were liars. The court further said the CBI itself had discredited the complainant, and the the judges concurred with the finding that the victim had died due to acute dehydration. Jagir Kaur’s teenage daughter, Harpreet Kaur, had died under “mysterious circumstances” in March 2000 and was hurriedly cremated a day after without any postmortem.
HC acquits Bibi Jagir Kaur in her daughter’s death case Kamaljeet Singh, who got engaged to Harpreet in 1999 and wanted to marry her, according to the CBI, had approached the High Court within a week after the death for an independent investigation, and subsequently the probe was transferred from the Punjab Police to CBI in June on court orders. Jagir Kaur, then a Cabinet minister, had alleged a political conspiracy behind the allegations and claimed her daughter had died a natural death.
The CBI in its investigation report had said Harpreet was in a relationship with Kamaljeet since schooldays. In September 2009, the two had performed an engagement ceremony and later also developed physical relations, according to the investigating agency. Jagir Kaur was against the proposed marriage due to the disparity between her and Kamaljeet’s status, the CBI had stated.
According to the CBI probe, Jagir Kaur first forcibly got her three-months-long pregnancy terminated in March 2000 and a month later got her killed with assistance of her trusted friend, Dalwinder Kaur Dhesi, political advisor Paramjit Singh Raipur, PSO Sub-Inspector Nishan Singh — all accused, and one Dr Balwinder Singh Sohal, who later turned approver in the case. The trial court in 2012 convicted the accused for abduction and forcible abortion, but acquitted them of the murder charge. All convicts were sentenced to five years imprisonment.
Lamenting that the trial court was obsessed with Kaur’s position in the society, the division bench of Justices A B Chaudhari and Kuldip Singh said that the alleged lower middle class status of complainant Kamaljeet Singh has “clearly and unfortunately” worked as an adverse circumstance against Jagir Kaur in the mind of the trial court judge.
The bench has said that the posts – head of Dera Sant Prem Singh, membership of the assembly, minister in the government and president of the SGPC, Amritsar – were no fault on her part and noted that there is neither evidence regarding any influence being used by her and nor evidence to prove that that she expressed herself to be an opponent of their marriage.
While delving into the testimony of the alleged conspirator-turned-approval Dr Balwinder Singh Sohal, the division bench has said that he was never made an accused despite being an alleged conspirator and observed, “An approver is a most unworthy friend, he having bargained for his immunity” while rubbishing the argument that after pardon he was to be treated an an ordinary witness.
Ruling that that “inculpatory statements” made by the accused to the approver cannot be even made admissible as evidence, the division bench said that the CBI failed to prove any connection between Sohal and Jagir Kaur. While Sohal was said to be a doctor at the dispensary being run by Jagir Kaur’s Dera in 1996, the defence had categorically said that no such doctor was employed at the Dera and alleged that he was made approver just days after his anticipatory bail was opposed by the CBI.
Observing that it is strange that the same Sessions Court entertained and granted him the anticipatory bail after recording the non-opposition from the CBI when 17 days earlier it had been rejected on opposition from the CBI, the division bench said that the approver was a “planted witness” and “we also have reason to believe that he was made approver witness by practicing pressure tactics, threats etc. in a professional manner and he tendered his evidence accordingly. He was given a Hobson’s choice to be a approver or be an accused. He chose the former.”
The bench on complainant Kamaljeet’s testimony observed that the CBI had discredited him during the cross-examination after he was declared hostile in 2010. Besides moving an application for prejury, the CBI in court accused him of accepting Rs 3 crore from the accused for resiling from statement given before the court during examination-in-chief in 2009. The CBI during the cross-examination had suggested to him that he had prepared video cassettes of the alleged engagement ceremony to blackmail Bibi Jagir Kaur, set a trap for Harpreet Kaur, impregnated her and later filed petition in High Court when he was not successful in extracting money.
“As a matter of fact, the investigating agency having decided to take a stand by putting the suggestions as above in respect of its own prosecution case cannot be allowed to argue to the contrary as otherwise there would be no sanctity to the conscious stand taken by the prosecuting agency, namely the CBI,” the bench has said, adding that stand taken by CBI clearly projects that it was a plot to extort money from accused and with an eye on Jagir Kaur’s property.
On the complainant’s application for re-examination in 2011 on the ground that he had resiled due to pressure, the division bench questioned the trial court’s wisdom in accepting the application without recording any finding about any pressure or influence and also noted that it appears CBI was aware about his ploy as it “diplomatically” left the decision for the court with a neutral stand on the application for recalling the witness who had earlier turned hostile.
“We are of the firm opinion that he is a dishonest and deceptive witness and a liar. His story is incredible and abounds in contradictions of the gravest kind. His evidence is actuated with mala fides, enmity and a very strong motive and greed coupled with enmity against the main accused Bibi Jagir Kaur,” the judgment reads.
The bench also rejected other evidence presented by the CBI in the form of call detail records of the accused while stating that the investigating officer had not seized any of the mobile phones or SIM cards and also it was not proven that it was the accused who were using the mobile phones. The CBI had presented the call detail records and claimed the accused were in touch during the abduction of the victim and until her death.
On the reasons behind Harpreet’s death, the bench said that a prosecution witness Dr Tarsem Singh in his statement had said that she had died due to acute dehydration and his evidence is “probable and acceptable”. The CBI, however, had argued that Tarsem had given a false statement to the Punjab Police on persuasion of Jagir Kaur. The court further observed, “Why a mother would even think of eliminating her beloved elder daughter!, when as alleged she had succeeded in secretly terminating the pregnancy.”
“In fact, to save her life due to dead foetus, the foetus was removed, is the finding and as such, no offence is constituted,” the bench has said, adding the CBI first officer, Harbhajan Ram, in the case had said that approver Sohal’s name never figured in his inquiry and also Investigating Officer Anurag Garg had concluded that Sohal, who helped in abortion, did not commit any offence as a dead foetus was found, despite CBI’s opposition to his first bail plea.