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Monday, October 18, 2021

Ranjit Singh Murder Case HC junks plea for transfer of case to another CBI court, says can’t allow bench hunting

Nixing the plea by the son of Ranjit Singh, who was allegedly murdered by Dera Sacha Sauda Chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim, the Punjab and Haryana High Court said the petitioner can’t have a bench of his choice.

Written by Jagpreet Singh Sandhu | Chandigarh |
Updated: October 6, 2021 6:58:38 am
According to the CBI chargesheet, Dera chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim suspected Ranjit of circulating an anonymous letter, alleging sexual exploitation of female followers. (Express File Photo)

Stating that a judge is aware of the powers bestowed on him and knows “how to conduct fair trial”, the Punjab and Haryana High Court Tuesday dismissed a plea seeking transfer of a murder trial against Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh from the special CBI court in Panchkula to another CBI court.

Dismissing the transfer plea by Jagseer Singh, son of Ranjit Singh who was allegedly murdered by Ram Rahim, Justice Avneesh Jhingan said, “The petitioner in garb of transfer petition cannot be permitted to have bench of his choice or to get result of trial as per his wishes.”

Jagseer Singh, in his petition, had expressed apprehensions that the trial at the Panchkula CBI court would not be fair.

Ranjit Singh, a former manager at the Sirsa-based Dera was murdered in 2002 and the CBI registered an FIR in 2003. According to the CBI chargesheet, the Dera chief suspected Ranjit of circulating an anonymous letter, alleging sexual exploitation of female followers.

The bench, dismissing the plea, said the petitioner’s apprehensions are unreasonable and based on conjectures. “The trial is at the stage of pronouncement of judgment. The petitioner watched and participated in trial before the Special Judge since April 2021, i.e. when he was transferred. With the advancement of technology and activism of social media, the allegation levelled by such litigants needs to be scrutinised very carefully.transfer of trial at fag end would result in browbeating the Judge and interference in fair administration of justice,” the bench said.

The petitioner’s counsel had argued that the Special Judge in the case has been unduly influenced by the accused through CBI Public Prosecutor KP Singh, who is not entrusted with the trial yet takes interest in the proceedings. He also said that Singh shares an unusual proximity with the Special Judge as both had been transferred from Chandigarh CBI Court to Panchkula.

The counsel argued that KP Singh was present in the office with the Special Judge on August 7, 2021 – a court holiday – and that it could be verified from the CCTV footage.

He further said that though the trial was in the arguments stage since September 16, 2017, the Special Judge showed undue hurry and rejected the special public prosecutor’s plea seeking two weeks’ time for obtaining assistance from a retired investigating officer. Thus, considering the sensitivity of the case and involvement of high profile accused, the case be transferred, the petitioner contended.

The HC had earlier stayed the pronouncement of the final judgment and had sought comments from the Special Judge of Panchkula concerning the allegations.

The CBI’s senior counsel, Sumeet Goel, in his reply, submitted before the HC that KP Singh’s transfer was an administrative decision and there was no question of anybody influencing it.

Meanwhile, counsel for Gurmeet Ram Rahim, Senior Advocate Vinod Ghai and Advocate Kanika Ahuja, refuted the contentions raised by Jagseer Singh that the sensitivity of the case and involvement of high-profile accused can form the basis of the petitioner’s apprehensions. They also sought initiation of contempt proceedings.

Justice Jhingan held that under Section 407(1) CrPC the high court can transfer a trial from a subordinate criminal court if fair or impartial trial is not possible but it can’t be done on the basis of mere apprehensions. “The apprehension must be reasonable and not imaginary. The power of transfer is to be sparingly exercised,” the bench said.

On Jagseer Singh’s allegations that the special CBI judge was in constant touch with one of the accused in a money laundering case and he attended the inaugural function of a hospital owned by the said accused and thereafter granted him bail, Justice Jhingan said, “The affected party in that case was the Enforcement Director. There is nothing on record that till date any legal remedy has been availed against the order passed by the Special Judge. As per the comments received from the Special Judge, three accused (including one alleged to be in touch with Special Judge) in the case titled ED v M/s Future Maker Life Care Pvt Ltd were granted interim regular bail on 23.3.2021 by his predecessor. The Special Judge, after getting the reply from the Enforcement Director, had only confirmed the interim bail.”

Justice Jhingan also said the allegations of proximity of CBI prosecutor KP Singh with the special judge is based on hearsay.

Regarding the allegations of the timing of transfer of the Special Judge and CBI Public Prosecutor from Chandigarh to Panchkula CBI Court, Justice Jhingan said, “.these were routine transfers.”

“He (KP Singh) is a regular public prosecutor in the CBI court at Panchkula. Senior public prosecutor and a special public prosecutor have been specifically appointed to represent the CBI in this case. Being a designated public prosecutor in the court, his presence is obvious and being regular in court, he can lend assistance to his colleagues,” he said.

The bench also rejected the arguments of the petitioner that the Special Judge is in undue hurry to conclude the trial and resultantly had not given fair opportunity to the Special Public Prosecutor to assist the court, by declining two weeks’ adjournment request.

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