Updated: October 8, 2021 1:07:22 pm
A special CBI court on Friday convicted Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh and four others for hatching a conspiracy to kill Ranjit Singh, one of his followers, in 2002. Ranjit’s son Jagseer, who was 8 years old at that time, along with his sisters and other family members relentlessly pursued the legal battle.
Who was Ranjit Singh and why was he murdered?
Ranjit Singh, a staunch follower of Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh and one of the managers at the dera in Sirsa, Haryana, was shot dead on July 10, 2002. An FIR was filed on charges of murder and criminal conspiracy at Thanesar police station. On November 10, 2003, the Punjab and Haryana High Court had ordered a CBI investigation in the case. On December 3, 2003, the CBI registered an FIR. In CBI’s investigation, Jasbir Singh, Sabdil Singh, Krishan Lal, Inder Sain and the dera chief were named as accused.
According to the CBI chargesheet, the Dera chief suspected Ranjit Singh of circulating an anonymous letter among the dera followers. The contents of the letter accused him of sexually exploiting women followers (sadhvis) inside the dera. This was the same letter, which Sirsa based journalist Ram Chander Chhatrapati highlighted in his news report. The Dera chief got Chhatrapati killed for that. Since the dera chief suspected Ranjit Singh behind that letter, he also allegedly hatched a conspiracy to eliminate him.
The charges were framed against the dera chief in 2007-2008 in the Ranjit Singh murder case, and the verdict was about to be pronounced in August, this year. But, Ranjit Singh’s son Jagseer filed a petition in the Punjab and Haryana High Court seeking transfer of the case out of Special CBI Court, Panchkula. The High Court, however, dismissed his plea, paving way for the CBI court in Panchkula to go ahead and announce the verdict.
Why did Punjab and Haryana High Court issue a stay order on verdict pronouncement?
On August 24, two days before the Special CBI Court (Panchkula) was about to pronounce the verdict in the Ranjit Singh’s murder case, Ranjit Singh’s son, Jagseer Singh, filed a petition in the Punjab and Haryana High Court seeking transfer of the case to another CBI Judge in Punjab, Haryana or Chandigarh. Jagseer had alleged that the Public Prosecutor for CBI, KP Singh, was previously posted with the Special CBI Judge, Chandigarh when the Presiding Officer was posted there. After his transfer to Panchkula, he had been interfering in the administration of justice and was influencing the entire proceedings. On August 24, 2021, Justice Arvind Singh Sangwan of Punjab and Haryana High Court issued a stay order on pronouncement of the verdict by the Special CBI Court (Panchkula) till further orders. The comments of the Presiding Officer (CBI court, Panchkula) and Public Prosecutor KP Singh were also sought.
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What did the High Court decide on Jagseer’s petition?
On Tuesday (October 5), Justice Avneesh Jhingan, however, dismissed Jagseer’s petition and said that “a judge is aware of the powers bestowed and how to conduct fair trial”.
Citing various judgments including Lalu Prasad Yadav vs State of Jharkhand, Capt. Amarinder Singh vs Parkash Singh Badal, Ashish Chadha vs Asha Kumari, Maneka Sanjay Gandhi vs Rani Jethmalani, the High Court, Tuesday, said that “the apprehensions of petitioner cannot be held to be reasonable, these are imaginary and based upon surmises and conjectures. The trial is at the stage of pronouncement of judgment. The petitioner watched and participated in trial before the Special Judge since April, 2021 i.e. when he was transferred. The petitioner in garb of transfer petition cannot be permitted to have a bench of his choice or to get the result of trial as per his wishes. With the advancement of technology and activism of social media, the allegation leveled by such litigants needs to be scrutinized very carefully. On asking of apprehensive litigant, transfer of trial at fag end would result in browbeating the Judge and interference in fair administration of justice. The petition is dismissed as being void of merits”.
The recusals/transfers during the trial
After hearing Jagseer Singh’s petition on two dates, Justice Sangwan recused from further hearings in the case. “It has come to my notice that I appeared as an Advocate on behalf of Ranjit Singh as well as his father Late Joginder Singh, Sarpanch in 02 civil litigations at Kurukshetra in the year 1986-1988. Let this case be listed before some other Bench, after obtaining the appropriate orders from the Chief Justice”, Justice Sangwan recorded in his order dated September 2, 2021.
On March 31, 2021, along with the transfer of Public Prosecutor KP Singh, PK Dogra, Senior Public Prosecutor, was transferred to Chandigarh. KP Singh was a designated Public Prosecutor in the CBI Court, Panchkula whereas DS Chawla, Senior Public Prosecutor and HPS Verma, Special Public Prosecutor, were specifically appointed for the purpose of trail in Ranjit Singh’s murder case. However, on September 29, DS Chawla was also transferred back to Bhopal from Chandigarh.
How does the verdict bring fresh trouble for the dera chief?
Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh already stands convicted for 20 years’ rigorous imprisonment for rape of two women followers. He also stands convicted for life for the murder of the Sirsa based journalist Ram Chander Chatterpati.
With the conviction in Ranjit Singh’s murder case, the dera chief is not likely to be out of jail anytime soon. In the recent past, the Dera chief has been taken out of the Sunaria prison in Rohtak on multiple occasions including meeting with his ailing mother and on his own medical checkup grounds.
What are the other cases pending against the dera chief?
The Dera chief is also facing another CBI case regarding alleged castration of a large number of his dera’s followers. On February 1, 2018, the CBI had filed a chargesheet in the Special CBI Court (Panchkula) against Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh and two doctors Pankaj Garg and MP Singh for castration of followers inside the dera. As per the chargesheet, a large number of followers were castrated at the behest of dera chief by Dr Garg and Dr Singh. They were charged under Sections 326 (voluntarily causing grievous hurt by dangerous weapons or means), 120-B (criminal conspiracy) and 417 (cheating) of Indian Penal Code.
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