Updated: October 19, 2021 5:16:45 pm
A special CBI court in Panchkula on Monday sentenced Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh to life in prison for the 2002 murder of his employee Ranjit Singh.
Gurmeet Ram Rahim is currently in Rohtak’s Sunaria jail, serving a 20-year sentence for raping two women disciples.
His punishment for the murder of Ranjit Singh will begin after the rape sentence ends, and will run concurrently with the life sentence awarded to him for another murder — that of journalist Ram Chander Chhatrapati, also in 2002.
Four of Gurmeet Ram Rahim’s co-accused were also given life sentences in the Ranjit Singh murder case on Monday.
Special Judge Sushil Kumar Garg declined the prosecution plea for capital punishment saying the murder did not fall in the category of “rarest of the rare” cases — and that “in such cases awarding of life imprisonment is a rule and death sentence is an exception”.
“…Undoubtedly brutality is involved, but that brutality by itself will not bring it within the ambit of the ‘rarest of the rare cases’ warranting death penalty”, the court said.
Public prosecutors HPS Verma and Kanwar Pal Singh argued that the accused-convict had already been convicted in two cases, and “this type of person does not have any scope of reformation and does not deserve any sympathy and does not deserve to live after committing heinous crime like rape and murder…”.
But the court said that while the Dera chief had indeed been convicted and sentenced in two cases earlier, “there is no denying the fact that appeals against the said judgments…are pending…. The appeals are continuation of the main case and outcome of the same cannot be predicted at this stage.”
The court had reserved its order in the case on August 18. It was supposed to have been pronounced on August 26, but had remained pending after Ranjit Singh’s son Jagseer Singh moved the Punjab and Haryana High Court asking that the case be transferred to another judge.
On October 8, Gurmeet Ram Rahim and his co-accused — Avtar Singh (53), Sabdil Singh (49), Krishan Lal (72), and Jasbir Singh (53) — were convicted of Ranjit’s murder.
They were found guilty under IPC Section 302 (murder) read with 120B (criminal conspiracy) and 506 (criminal intimidation), and Section 27 of the Arms Act (punishment for using arms).
Gurmeet Ram Rahim has also been fined Rs 31 lakh, half of which will go to Ranjit’s son. The other four convicts have been fined between Rs 75,000 and Rs 1.5 lakh in addition to being sentenced to life imprisonment.
The prosecution completed its arguments seeking the death penalty on October 12; counsel for defence had, however, requested time for rebuttal arguments.
In an eight-page statement submitted to the court, Gurmeet Ram Rahim asked for leniency on grounds of his “philanthropic work” over the years.
The court rejected the plea, saying “merely the said social welfare activities could not absolve accused-convict Baba Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh from his criminal liability, for, the law does not permit any person to take away the life of anybody and then to plead leniency on the ground of social welfare works done by him or at his instance.”
Ranjit, a follower of Gurmeet Ram Rahim and manager of the dera in Haryana’s Sirsa, was shot dead on July 10, 2002.
According to the CBI’s chargesheet, the Dera chief suspected Ranjit of circulating an anonymous letter accusing him of sexually exploiting women followers.
CBI had registered the case on orders passed by the Punjab and Haryana High Court in November 2003. A chargesheet against six accused was filed on July 30, 2007, and charges were framed on December 12, 2008. One of the accused died in October 2020.
What was the case?
As per the detailed judgement, it was in May 2002 that an anonymous letter accusing the Dera chief of sexually exploiting women followers was circulated. It was thereafter, that incidents of threatening Ranjit Singh began. After the withdrawal of his sister and daughters early in 2002, Ranjit Singh restricted his visits to the Dera and then subsequently stopped his visits. Singh had been receiving threats from people associated with the Dera, who suspected him to be behind the origin and circulation of the anonymous letter in question.
As per the order, even the “relevant witnesses” examined by the prosecution have unequivocally deposed that Ranjit Singh was constantly threatened for circulating the anonymous letter and face consequences for the same if he did not apologise to the Dera chief.
This same letter was also highlighted by the Sirsa-based journalist Ram Chander Chhatrapati. The Dera chief got Chhatrapati killed for that and already stands convicted in his murder case. Since the Dera chief suspected Ranjit Singh behind the letter, he hatched a conspiracy to eliminate him as well.
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