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Kotkapura firing case: HC slams SIT’s ‘theatrics’, absolves Badal

On April 9, the HC had quashed the investigations and chargesheet filed by Kunwar Vijay Pratap Singh, who headed the SIT constituted in September 2018 to probe the firing on anti-sacrilege protesters at Kotkapura on October 14, 2015.

Written by Navjeevan Gopal | Chandigarh |
Updated: April 24, 2021 6:13:51 am
Punjab and Haryana High Court, Parkash Singh Badal, SIT probe, Kotkapura firing case, Punjab news, indian expressPunjab and Haryana High Court. (Express file photo by Jasbir Malhi)

The Punjab and Haryana High Court has come down heavily on the Special Investigation Team (SIT) for its probe into the 2015 Kotkapura firing case, and absolved then chief minister Parkash Singh Badal of allegations of conspiracy.

Referring to the probe as “political theatrics”, “intended to create a narrative in favour of one political party and against the other during the [2019 Lok Sabha] election process”, the court said that “the police were acting only on the order of civil administration”, and that there was no record to show that the firing was unprovoked.

On April 9, the HC bench of Justice Rajbir Sehrawat had quashed the investigations and chargesheet filed by Kunwar Vijay Pratap Singh, who headed the SIT constituted by the Capt Amarinder government in September 2018, to probe the firing on anti-sacrilege protesters at Kotkapura on October 14, 2015. 

The detailed order on Friday noted that investigation carried out by Kunwar was “not free from blemish. His personal malice and malafide functioning by totally usurping the powers of SIT constituted in the first instance, has been duly demonstrated on record.” 

On allegations against Badals, the order noted, “This court fails to understand as to how and why a purely religious issue, which was dealt with by the top religious leaders of Sikhs, has been brought into picture by respondent no. 3 (Kunwar). Surprising thing is; that even after making effort to find out and establish the allegation of conspiracy against Prakash Singh Badal and Sukhbir Singh Badal; and despite mentioning their names in the chargesheet and recording therein that their conspiracy is established, the respondent no. 3 did not array them as accused by filing any chargesheet against them in these two FIRs, so far.’’

The court noted that “the fact that the respondent no. 3 went to the extent of giving an interview to a TV channel during high time of election process, shows only one thing that the present investigation has been kept by the respondent no.3 as political horse to be flogged only at an opportune time, whenever the elections are around the corner or when it otherwise suits him.”

Trashing the call details records involving then chief minister Parkash Singh Badal, then DGP Sumedh Singh Saini, local political representative (MLA) and district administration, and calling it “another aspect to highlight a hypothetical approach” of Kunwar, the court observed: “However, in the considered opinion of this court mere factum of a chief minister talking to the district administration or to the DGP of the state in the times of a situation where the law and order is disturbed, in itself, would not be sufficient to infer his conspiracy to kill or injure anybody through firing by the police upon the protesters, unless there is some other material collected by the investigating officer to establish prior meeting of minds for conspiracy and then directly linking the chief minister to such conspiracy. ”

The court  observed that “if mere talking of the chief minister, or for that matter by a minister with his DGP or the district administration, is taken as a criminal conspiracy then any chief minister can be held criminally liable every day for any wrongdoing resulting from wrong functioning of district officials. The fact that the then chief minister was in contact with the district officials, rather, shows that he was alive to the situation and to his responsibility as a chief minister, even in the odd hours. Had the then chief minister not been in contact with the district administration and his DGP in such a critical situation, then he would have run the risk of being branded as another Nero who played fiddle when the Rome was burning. However, there is not any material collected by the respondent no.3 to even remotely suggest direct linkage of the chief minister to any conspiracy except the call records.” 

Noting that not even a single injured police official was examined as witness by Kunwar in October 2015 FIR, the court observed, “This is the height of the arbitrariness in investigation.” The order further said Kunwar repeatedly was declaring that the police resorted to ‘unprovoked firing’ on ‘peaceful protestors’; despite the fact that “the magistrate present on the spot had assessed the situation that had arisen on the spot  and had granted permission to use tear gas in the first instance, lathi charge thereafter, and the gun firing at the third stage. As per record, this permission was  granted on the basis that the protestors were resorting to large scale violence and  destruction of property; and that because of this the situation had gone out of control. The police were acting only under the orders of the civil authorities, including the SDM. However, none of the civil authorities or the SDM has been made an accused in this case, nor their version recorded anywhere says that the firing was unprovoked or that the protestors were peaceful.” 

The April 9 decision of the court came on a petition filed by former Kotkapura Station House officer Gurdeep Singh, who was the both the complainant and investigating officer in the FIR registered in connection with the case in 2015, and was made an accused in another FIR registered by the five-member SIT in September 2018 for the same occurrence.  

The detailed order on Friday read the petitioners had also been “successful in showing” that Kunwar “has gone to the extent of manufacturing the statements of witnesses to suit his designs”. 

Quashing the investigation, the order noted, “This court finds that what could have been a simple investigation of a crime committed either by the protestors or by the police or by both, have been made to fester and convert itself to a quagmire wherein every concerned person finds himself entrapped. This has resulted from a dangerous mixing of religion, politics and the police administration; because of which the aggrieved persons; whether it be the police persons or the injured from the protestors; must be finding  themselves to be cheated and endlessly waiting for real justice.’’

Quashing the investigations done by Kunwar, whose application for voluntary retirement submitted earlier this month after the April 9 court order has been accepted by the Congress government, the court ordered constituting an SIT of three senior IPS officers from Punjab, which shall not include Kunwar, and which shall include at least one officer senior to him in rank and designation, “to conduct the investigation in the FIR involved in the present petitions” in connection with two FIRs for “same transactions”.

“Once constituted, that SIT shall not be changed by the State government except in case of retirement, incapacity or death of the officer concerned,” reads the court order, adding that “The final report of investigation shall be filed jointly as a team; under signatures of all the members of the SIT, who shall also be cited as witnesses in the list as the investigating officers.”

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