The pardon granted to four police personnel convicted for a fake encounter has opened pandora’s box for the state government with hardliners seeking release of Sikh detainees lodged in jails in Punjab, Chandigarh and other states, bringing the issue back in focus.
Chief Minister Amarinder Singh has assigned Jails and Cooperation Minister Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa to handle the situation. The hardliners argument is that if the police personnel could be pardoned after spending less than three years in jail, the Sikh prisoners should also be released as they had already undergone punishment for 22-30 years in various jails.
Then Uttar Pradesh Superintendent of Police Ravinder Kumar Singh, Inspector Brij Lal Verma and Constable Onkar Singh and then Punjab Police Inspector Harinder Singh, who were sentenced to life by Special CBI court in Patiala on December 1, 2014 for criminal conspiracy, abduction and murder of Harjit Singh, a resident of Saharan Majra village in Ludhiana district, were granted pardon by Punjab Governor V P Singh Badnore recently after the perusal of the case took over two years and a half.
The opposition has since then made it an issue with Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) demanding that the pardon be revoked. The Congress-led government in state has already washed its hand of the controversy by saying that the case for pardon was moved during the intervening period between the 2017 Assembly elections and Chief Minister Amarinder Singh government taking over. SAD chief Sukhbir Singh Badal has accused the government of not briefing the Governor properly.
Randhawa has already met a delegation of Sikh organisations including Dal Khalsa, United Akali Dal and Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar). Another meeting was scheduled for July 8 but is set to be postponed as Randhawa is preoccupied in Dera Baba Nanak for 550th birth anniversary celebrations of Guru Nanak Dev.
Gurdeep Singh Bathinda, a representative of Bargari Morcha, who was also a part of the last meeting said, “We are hopeful. It only makes sense to raise the issue as they have granted pardon to cops who served 2.5 to 3 years sentence while the Sikh prisoners have spent three-three decades of their life in jails. We will talk to the government. If the issue is not resolved then we will raise it publicly.”
According to Jaspal Singh Manjhpur, an activist lawyer, who has fought the cases of Sikh prisoners, there were 22 Sikh prisoners serving life sentence, out of which seven were in Punjab jails, five were in Chandigarh Burail jail, two were in Tihar jail in Delhi and the rest in other states.
A government functionary said while the issue was raked up again, it was not in state’s domain to release these prisoners. “Most of these are convicted under TADA. The state has no role to play. It will be done by Centre,” he said.
Jails Minister Randhawa had even met the Union Home Secretary before Lok Sabha elections in connection with these prisoners. “He was told that the Centre would have to take a call. At most, the Centre would be able to take a decision on five such prisoners,” said the functionary privy to the discussion.
The issue of Sikh prisoners had hogged centre stage a few years ago in Punjab when a radical Sikh Surat Singh Khalsa had started a fast unto death seeking the release of these prisoners.
The list includes Devinderpal Singh Bhullar, former Khalistan Liberation Force militant convicted for Delhi bomb blast, TADA convict Gurdeep Singh Khera, Paramjit Singh Beora convicted for involvement in former Chief Minister Beant Singh’s assassination, Balwant Singh Rajoana, Jagtar Singh Hawara and Jagtar Singh Tara, all convicted in Beant Singh assassination case are among the prisoners.