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Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Post-sacrilege firing case: New SIT questions Badal sr, Akali Dal says probe conspiracy to defame SAD

The three-member SIT that questioned the former CM is headed by ADGP (Vigilance Bureau) L K Yadav. Ludhiana Police Commissioner Rakesh Agarwal and DIG (Faridkot Range) Surjit Singh are the other two members.

Written by Navjeevan Gopal | Chandigarh |
Updated: June 22, 2021 10:16:46 pm
Post-sacrilege firing case Members of the New SIT team lead by ADGP LK Yadav coming out of official MLA Flat of ex-CM Badal. (Express photo: Jasbir Malhi)  

The new SIT constituted to probe the post-sacrilege Kotkapura firing case on Tuesday questioned former Punjab CM Parkash Singh Badal at his Chandigarh residence for about two hours. Soon after the questioning, senior SAD leaders addressed the media and called the move a gimmick for political mileage ahead of 2022 Assembly polls.

The three-member SIT that questioned the former CM is headed by ADGP (Vigilance Bureau) L K Yadav. Ludhiana Police Commissioner Rakesh Agarwal and DIG (Faridkot Range) Surjit Singh are the other two members. All three members were present during the questioning.

On Tuesday morning, Yadav, Agarwal and Surjit Singh reached Badal’s residence at about 10:30 am along with Punjab’s former director, prosecution, Vijay Singla.

Akali Dal objected to Singla’s presence and alleged that it was “in violation” of High Court orders that Singla had been brought along.

SAD later said that it had interrupted Singla’s attempt to question the former CM.

Singla, however, maintained that he had been engaged as “legal expert” by the SIT and had “just accompanied” them. Maintaining that he “did not ask any question”, Singla added that after SAD’s objection, he was “not present” at the time Badal was questioned.

According to Harcharan Bains, the principal advisor to SAD chief Sukhbir Badal, the Yadav-led SIT, after reaching at around 10:30 am, started questioning senior Badal at 10:53 am and continued till around 12:55 pm.

Badal had earlier sought postponement of his questioning citing ill health.

As per a SAD spokesperson “still not in good health”, Badal, however, was “keen to fulfil his legal & constitutional duties as a law abiding citizen of the country” and decided to join the investigation on Tuesday.

During SIT questioning on Tuesday, a team of medical experts had also reached Badal’s residence to examine him. Bains said it was part of senior Badal’s routine medical examination.

While Badal senior did not appear before the media, Bains, in a tweet later, said: “PS Badal asked SIT why it won’t widen probe to investigate Cong & AAP hand in sacrilege conspiracy to defame & destabilise then Akali govt. HC said Kunwar Vijay Partap (head of previous SIT probing the case) politicised probe. This was to vilify Akalis & to turn Sikhs against them. At whose behest? Must be probed, post HC remarks”.

Later, speaking to The Indian Express, Harcharan Bains quoted Badal stating before the SIT that: “For 15 months of my (then SAD government) government and four and a half years of this (Congress) government, I have not commented on political conspiracies against the Akali Dal. I have simply said that the probe should be fair and it should not be politicised. But now because the High Court has said that the investigation process was politicised, I want to ask the SIT why the area of investigation cannot be widened to go into who was behind the conspiracy and why? Anybody who is not found guilty is innocent…The role played by others should also be investigated. I am not saying that AAP is guilty or Congress is guilty, but why are you not investigating the role played by Congress and AAP?”

Bains further quoted Badal as telling SIT that “no government can destabilise itself by creating such a situation in the state. Obviously, somebody else who had vested interest did it. Who was that? To find out, why can’t the area of investigation be widened?”

Sources in the Akali Dal said most of the questions posed by SIT were similar to the ones posed by the previous SIT. They said ex-CM’s questioning revolved around his telephonic conversation on that day to which Badal replied that “the state was tense that day so I could not go to sleep without being assured that everything was okay”.

Badal was learnt to have told SIT that his style of governance was “based on consensus and not using force” and that he had “directed that whatever the pressure or provocation from the protestors, don’t use force”.

He, sources said, also told SIT members that they can “cross check his assertions by any of the investigating tools or procedures they might have”.

Soon after the SIT wrapped up its questioning session, senior Akali leaders, former MP Prem Singh Chandumajra, Mahesh Inder Singh Grewal and SAD spokesperson Daljit Singh Cheema, addressed a press conference and alleged that that the new SIT had “violated” the Punjab and Haryana High Court guidelines as Vijay Singla accompanied the designated officials and tried to question senior Badal.

Grewal said, “(Retired) director, prosecution (Vijay Singla), who has been re-employed… why was he made part of the SIT? Did they take any permission? He started questioning (Badal]) despite that he is not associated with the SIT. Does it not indicate that they are playing politics?”

Chandumajra added, “As per the High Court order, no fourth person could be a part of the SIT. The SIT is a launch pad to gain political mileage…SIT members are directly reporting to kitchen cabinet. The institutions should not be used to serve political purposes.”

SAD leaders also alleged that L K Yadav was promoted to the rank of ADGP “overnight” to head the SIT even as a number of other ADGP-rank officers were already there in the police force. Yadav was not available for comments.

The new SIT was constituted on directions of the Punjab and Haryana High Court after it quashed the probe by previous SIT headed by then IG Kunwar Vijay Pratap Singh on April 9.

After the court order, Kunwar Vijay took voluntary retirement and on Monday joined Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) ahead of 2022 Punjab Assembly elections.

The court had directed that the new SIT should not include then IG Kunwar Vijay and should be headed by an officer senior to his (Kunwar’s) rank and designation.

Three days before Congress government in the State announced the SIT headed by Yadav on May 7, the 1996 batch IPS officer was among eight IPS officers promoted as ADGP rank officers on May 4.

Maintaining that then CM was not associated with the case in any way, Grewal said SIT should ask the then SDM from whom he took the orders (for police action and opening fire).

He added that Kotkapura and Behbal Kalan incidents were being “intermingled” and there were attempts to “create confusion”.

While there was no casualty in the Kotkapura police firing incident, two protestors were killed on same day on October 14, 2015 in Behbal Kalan in alleged police firing.

An SIT headed by IG Naunihal Singh was constituted to probe the Behbal Kalan case after Kunwar Vijay Pratap Singh resigned. The SIT headed by Yadav is now looking into the Kotkapura firing incident. Earlier, both cases were being probed by the SIT headed by Kunwar Vijay Pratap.

Further, Cheema hit out at Chief Minister Amarinder Singh for “not jailing” Kunwar Vijay, given the “nature of strictures” against him by the court, including indulging in “political theatrics”.

Cheema said he wanted to ask CM and DGP, “Why did you not chargesheet him? Why did you save him by accepting his premature retirement application? Is it not contempt of court?” asked Cheema, calling for a narco test on Kunwar Vijay.

Cheema said after Kunwar Vijay joined AAP on Monday, it was proved that he was “undercover agent” of AAP and Congress.

SAD chief Sukhbir Badal told media: “Earlier also Congress played politics over the issue and is now playing politics again. The aim is not to nab the culprits, but to play politics.”

Sukhbir said that Akali Dal had been “saying earlier also that CM Amarinder Singh and Kunwar Vijay Pratap were doing politics over the issue”.

This is second time that Badal, who was CM when incidents of sacrilege and police firing took place in October 2015, has been questioned by the SIT.

Earlier, the Kunwar Vijay-led SIT had questioned former CM in November 2018 amid a high drama after Badal insisted that then SIT chairman Prabodh Kumar should also be present during his questioning.

After the questioning, Badal had told mediapersons that the SIT was “politically motivated to defame him and Sukhbir Badal” and “CM Amarinder Singh will get the SIT report written by the Advocate General where they (Badals) will be turned into culprits from witnesses”.

The new SIT has already questioned a number of persons and recorded their statements, including then DGP Sumedh Singh Saini, who retired in June 2018.

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