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Friday, July 30, 2021

Explained: The new SITs probing the Punjab desecration and police firing cases of 2015

Currently three SITs are probing the cases of sacrilege and police firing of 2015 when the Akali government was at the helm of affairs.

Written by Navjeevan Gopal , Edited by Explained Desk | Chandigarh |
Updated: June 14, 2021 11:03:26 am
Punjab desecration, 2015 firingProtest march by Sikhs against desecration of Guru Granth Sahib in Punjab at Sector 35 Roundabout in Chandigarh on Monday, October 26 2015. (Express Archives)

The Congress leadership in Punjab is in the midst of a bitter feud in which a number of party leaders are locked in a slugfest with Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh over the issue of sacrilege of Guru Granth Sahib and police firing on protesters in 2015.

It was on April 9 this year that the Punjab and Haryana High Court quashed the Special Investigation (SIT) probe set up by the Congress government into the firing at Kotkapura town in Faridkot, in which two men protesting against the sacrilege at Bargari village were killed in police firing on October 14, 2015. Earlier on October 12, torn pages of Guru Granth Sahib, the holy book of the Sikhs that they consider a living guru, were found at Bargari village in Faridkot, leading to widespread outrage.

The HC not only quashed the probe but also questioned its methods, and directed the state to reconstitute the special investigation team without IPS officer Kunwar Vijay Pratap Singh, who resigned soon afterwards.

The HC ruling has led to turmoil in Congress with partymen terming it a huge loss of face for the state government that had promised to bring the accused to book in both the sacrilege and the firing case when it was elected in 2017.

The spotlight has now shifted to new Special Investigation Teams (SITs) formed by the government to probe the cases. The new SITs are racing against time to bring the cases dating back to 2015 to its logical conclusion, as Punjab inches closer to Assembly elections early next year.

A look at the new SITs and how things have unfolded as Congress high command set up a three-member panel amid sharp criticism of the government on the issue from various Congress leaders.

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How many SITs are currently probing the cases? What cases have been entrusted to each one of them?

Currently three SITs are probing the cases of sacrilege and police firing of 2015 when the Akali government was at the helm of affairs.

*An SIT headed by Border Range Amritsar Inspector General of Police S P S Parmar is probing the case of theft of copy (bir) of Guru Granth Sahib from a gurdwara in Burj Jawahar Singh Wala (FIR dated June 2, 2015); the case of handwritten sacrilegious and derogatory posters in Bargari village (FIR dated September 25, 2015); and the case of torn pages found strewn in Bargari village (FIR dated October 12, 2015). The SIT led by Parmar was entrusted with the investigation into the cases after the High Court order in January asked Punjab government to replace Ranbir Singh Khatra, then DIG heading the SIT, with some other officer following a petition by dera follower Sukhjinder Singh, an accused in all the three cases. The court had, however, pointed out that it was not trashing the probe conducted by Khatra.

* An SIT headed by ADGP/Vigilance Bureau L K Yadav is probing the Kotkapura firing incident (FIRs dated October 14, 2015 and August 7, 2018). Yadav led SIT was formed on May 7 and entrusted with the investigation after the high court quashed the investigations and chargesheet filed by then IG Kunwar Vijay Pratap Singh, who headed the SIT constituted by the Capt Amarinder government to probe the case. The court order, which also directed that Kunwar Vijay should not be made part of new SIT, came on a petition filed by former Kotkapura Station House officer Gurdeep Singh, who was both the complainant and investigating officer in the FIR registered in 2015 and was made an accused in the FIR registered in 2018.

* An SIT headed by Ludhiana Range Inspector General Naunihal Singh has been entrusted to probe Behbal Kalan police firing incident where two anti-sacrilege protesters were killed and two FIRs, one dated October 14, 2015 (under various sections of Indian Penal Code including 307 (attempt to murder), and sections of Arms Act and Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act) and other dated October 21, 2015 for murder and under sections of Arms Act, were registered. The SIT led by Naunihal Singh was constituted on May 15, after voluntary retirement of Kunwar Vijay who was probing the case.

What progress has been made by the three SITs ?

SIT led by IG Parmar: In what it calls as its “surgical strike” achieved with “complete secrecy”, IG Parmar-led SIT on May 16 arrested six Dera followers in connection with the sacrilege cases. All the six arrested are among those who were alleged to be involved in three sacrilege cases by Khatra-led SIT.

While referring to the probe by Khatra, Justice Ranjit Singh (retd) Commission of Inquiry which probed the sacrilege and police firing cases and submitted a report to the government on June 30, 2018 had documented the role of each in detail. CBI, to which the cases were handed over by the erstwhile Akali government in October 2015, had filed a closure report in the three cases on July 4, 2019.

* SIT led by ADGP Yadav: On Monday, the SIT questioned former Punjab DGP Sumedh Singh Saini in connection with the Kotkapura firing case. The controversial officer, Saini was State DGP at the time of the incident, before he was removed following a massive outrage over sacrilege and police firing incidents. The SIT questioned Saini, who retired in June 2018, for four hours and there are chances that he could be called again for questioning. On the same day, the SIT also questioned Iqbal Preet Singh Sahota and Rohit Choudhary, the officers in the rank of Special DGP. Earlier, on Thursday (May 27), the SIT members went to Faridkot and recorded the statements of around 100 persons, continuing their questioning till night and resuming the next day. Yadav had visited the incident site on May 13, in less than a week after taking over.

* SIT led by IG Naunihal: The SIT is caught in a “legal quagmire” as of now, as per a source, who added that it was “studying the documentation in detail” to “establish a platform for starting the investigation, if there were enough grounds for the same”. The source said the SIT was “getting the issues of chargesheets filed in Behbal Kalan case and the court stays and directions on applications made by the accused.”

Who are the six Dera followers arrested by IG Parmar-led SIT? What are their alleged roles?

*Sukhjinder Singh alias Sunny Kanda, a resident of Kotkapura who was “earlier running dairy business but presently working as electrician & plumber” As per the SIT, he was the most trusted man of dera follower Mohinder Pal Bittu, the key accused in the cases who was killed in Nabha jail on June 22, 2019, and “is involved in all the three cases of sacrilege”.

* Shakti Singh, a resident of Daggo Romana, “is a carpenter and involved in all the three cases of sacrilege”.

* Ranjit Singh alias Bhola, a resident of Kotkapura, “works as insurance agent at Shri Muktsar Sahib and “also involved in all the three cases of sacrilege”.

* Baljit Singh, a resident of Sikhan Wala, “is a labourer” and “also involved in all the three cases of sacrilege”.

* Nishan Singh, a resident of Kotkapura, “has a furniture business at Kotkapura and is involved in “two cases of sacrilege”.

* Pardeep Singh alias Raju Dhodhi, “owns a dairy near his house and was involved in “one incident of sacrilege”.

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