As IG Paramraj Singh Umranangal cools his heels in police custody in the Behbal Kalan firing case, the Batala police is struggling to solve a 25-year-old mystery to ascertain the identity of the dead man he entered in police records as wanted militant Gurnam Singh Bandala in 1994. Bandala was caught alive four years later in 1998, after which family of one Sukhpal Singh of village Kala Afghana of Gurdaspur claimed that he was the one killed during an encounter by Umranangal.
As DSP Ropar, Umranangal claimed credit for killing Bandala during an encounter on July 29, 1994. Talking to The Indian Express, Bandala said, “Then Ropar SSP Ajit Singh Sandhu, who later committed suicide, and DSP Paramraj Singh Umranangal had tortured my family for few days before my alleged ‘encounter’. They were searching for me desperately. But they couldn’t find me. Later, my family came to know through newspapers that I had been killed in an encounter. My family performed my last rites and came to know about me only in 1998 when I was caught alive by the Batala police.”
It was human rights activist Col G S Sandhu (retd) who first connected the dots and claimed that the person killed on July 29, 1994 was Sukhpal Singh of Kala Afghana. “It was Sukhpal Singh who was killed that day. His dead body was produced as of militant Gurnam Singh as there was prize on the head of Gurnam Singh who was wanted since 1984. He was close to Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and any police officer would had wanted to arrest or kill Gurnam Singh for quick promotion and prize money. This is why Umranangal killed someone else and produced as dead body of Gurnam Singh,” Sandhu claimed.
Col Sandhu (retd) and Sukhpal’s family pursued the case and ensured that a probe was ordered under Additional Director General Police (ADGP) J P Virdi in 2007. After a lull in probe due to Virdi’s death in 2010, Dalbir Kaur, wife of Sukhpal Singh, approached the High Court for a CBI inquiry in 2013. Responding to this demand, Punjab Police marked another inquiry by ADGP I P S Sahota.
Sahota’s probe said that Sukhpal’s mother named one Avtar Singh Tari as someone involved in her son’s disappearance. In his inquiry report, Sahota maintained that the man killed on that day was not Gurnam Singh. However, it also said that it was not sure if dead body was of that Sukhpal Singh. Based on this, an FIR under Section 364 and 365 was registered against one Avatar Singh Tari at the Fathegarh Churian police station in March, 2016.
Fathegarh Churian police station SHO Harjit Singh said, “FIR was registered on March 15, 2016. Avatar Singh Tari is not a police officer. He was mentioned in the FIR because the deceased mother of Sukhpal Singh had only identified him at the time of kidnapping of Sukhpal Singh from their house. According to family, Avatar Singh was allegedly brokering deal between officers and family of Sukhpal Singh for his release.”
Police failed to trace Tari for three years after filing FIR. Only recently they discovered that a man of the same was locked up in Patiala jail under NDPS Act. With a High Court hearing in the case approaching in February this year, Tari was brought on production warrant two months back.
The SHO added, “We had no clue about who was this Avatar Singh Tari. Just around two months back, we brought one Avatar Singh Tari on production warrant from Patiala jail. He claimed that he was not same person. He has been sent back to Patiala. We are still investigating case.” The High Court is scheduled to hear the case next on March 1.
About Umranangal role in the case, Col Sadhu (retd) said: “Why Punjab Police have not taken any action against Umranangal so far for killing an unidentified person and producing him as wanted militant who is still alive. Isn’t this mockery of Justice?”