September 4, 2020 8:05:49 pm
Former Punjab Director General of Police Sumedh Singh Saini finds himself on the run after being booked on May 6 in a 29-year-old case of abduction, torture and disappearance of junior engineer Balwant Singh Multani. He has been trying hard to get anticipatory bail after two co-accused in the case turned approvers in August, leading to the addition of a murder charge against him.
On Friday, a Punjab and Haryana High Court judge recused himself from hearing Saini’s anticipatory bail plea. Earlier, on September 2, another judge had recused from hearing his petition seeking either quashing or transfer of the case to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). That plea is now listed for hearing for September 7. Saini had approached the high court after the additional district and sessions judge of Mohali dismissed his anticipatory bail plea on September 1.
On Thursday, a Punjab Police spokesperson said Saini had “absconded, leaving his security detail behind”. Responding to a letter Saini’s wife wrote to Punjab DGP Dinkar Gupta, saying his Z Plus security cover had been withdrawn all of a sudden, the spokesman said the former top cop had apparently left his Chandigarh residence without the Punjab Police security personnel or security vehicles allotted to him, “thus jeopardising his own security.” With his wife also missing from their Chandigarh residence, searches are being conducted across North India to find the former police officer.
Here is a lowdown on the police officer and the controversies surrounding him.
Who is Sumedh Singh Saini?
Sumedh Singh Saini is a 1982 batch India Police Service (IPS) officer who retired as Director General of Police as well as chairman of Punjab Police Housing Corporation on June 30, 2018 after putting in 36 years of service. He is alleged to have indulged in gross human rights violation and torture during his career, especially when he served as Senior Superintendent of Police in at least five districts in Punjab and as Chandigarh SSP. All through his career, Saini has had his own set of admirers and critics.
During terrorism in Punjab, when K P S Gill headed the state police force, Saini was given a free hand. His style of working remained controversial. A section of officers are still fans of his fight against terrorism with an “iron hand”, while others flag his alleged disregard for human rights.
In 2012, then Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP combine government in Punjab led by Akali patriach Parkash Singh Badal appointed him as State DGP. In Saini’s appointment as DGP, at least four senior officers were superceded. Fifty-four years of age at that time, Saini was the youngest DGP in the country.
Amid turmoil in Punjab and Panthic anger against Akali government over desecration of Guru Granth Sahib and death of two anti-sacrilege protestors in police firing in Faridkot, Saini, who was the blue-eyed boy of Shiromani Akali Dal president and then deputy chief minister of Punjab Sukhbir Singh Badal, had to be unceremoniously removed from the post in October 2015. Another 1982 batch IPS officer, Suresh Arora, replaced Saini.
Relegated to an insignificant posting in Punjab Police Housing Corporation after his removal as state police chief, Saini did not ever visit the office in Mohali even as a team of security personnel accompanied by a sniffer dog, in the wake of “threat perception” to the officer, sanitised his office regularly in anticipation that he may show up.
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The cases against Saini
Multani abduction and murder case: Son of then serving IAS officer D S Multani, Balwant Singh Multani (25) was a junior engineer with Chandigarh Industrial and Tourism Development Corporation (CITCO) when he was allegedly picked up by the police in connection with a terrorist attack on Saini in 1991 in which he was injured and three policemen were killed. Saini was then Chandigarh SSP. Multani was allegedly “tortured to death” and was “falsely shown” as having absconded from police custody.
Amid allegations by his family that Multani was falsely implicated and brutally tortured at the behest of Saini, a Punjab and Haryana High Court Bench headed on October 5, 2007 directed CBI to conduct a probe. On July 2, 2008, CBI booked Saini, then Chandigarh DSP Baldev Singh Saini, then SIs posted at Sector 17 central police station Harsahai Sharma and Jagir Singh, and “other unknown police officials” under various sections, including kidnapping with intention to murder.
In this FIR, the CBI noted that Multani was picked up to know the whereabouts of Devinder Pal Singh Bhullar, who Saini blamed for the bomb attack on him. It also noted that Bhullar’s father, Balwant Singh Bhullar, was also picked up in that connection. Balwant’s brother Palwinder, in his latest complaint to Punjab Police, has alleged that three others, namely, Kultar Singh, Bhullar’s father-in-law, and his two relatives — Manjit Singh and Jaspreet Inderjit Singh — were also picked up and subjected to “torture”. Devinder Pal Singh Bhullar is currently serving life term in the 1993 Delhi bomb blast case after the death penalty awarded to him was commuted.
However, CBI’s 2008 FIR was quashed by the Supreme Court in 2011 after Akali government defended Saini strongly in the case.
In the fresh complaint on the basis of which Saini and six others were booked on May 6 at Mataur police station in Mohali, Multani’s brother Palwinder Singh Multani has said that the CBI FIR was quashed on “technical grounds”, leaving it open that complainant “may take recourse to fresh proceedings, if permissible under the law”.
Ludhiana disappearance case: A similar case of alleged abduction of three Ludhiana men back in 1994 drags on against Saini at Delhi’s special CBI court. On March 15, 1994, Ludhiana-based businessmen Vinod Kumar, his brother-in-law Ashok Kumar and their driver, Mukhtiar Singh, were abducted and illegally detained, allegedly with the involvement of then Ludhiana SSP Saini. Their families believe that the trio was eliminated, though the bodies were never found.
Vinod’s brother Ashish alleges that the trio was “abducted and illegally detained at the behest of Saini” because he (Ashish) and Vinod had advanced loans to Ludhiana-based Saini Motors, a car dealership Saini had allegedly a grudge against due to a family tussle.
Saini and three other policemen, two of them retired and one still serving, were accused of kidnapping for murder, and CBI filed a chargesheet 20 years ago. For 23 years, Vinod’s mother, who died at the age of 102 in 2017, fought an unending legal battle for justice.
Ashish accuses Saini of “threatening judges and witnesses” and making “a mockery of the system”. Ajay Burman, who represents Saini in 1994 abduction case, refutes the allegations saying: “These are just stories that they (victim’s family) always rake up. There is nothing like that.” In July last year, then CBI investigating officer in the case, Dharampal Singh, who retired as CBI Superintendent of Police, turned hostile and retracted from his own investigation.
Career and controversies: In 1992, Saini was alleged to be involved in assaulting a Lieutenant Colonel in Chandigarh, triggering sharp reaction from the Army which was only assuaged following the intervention of then Chief Minister Beant Singh and then DGP K P S Gill.
Later, during his stint as police chief, Saini had declined to take Army help when Dinanagar police station came under terror attack. Saini led the force.
In post-terrorism era Punjab, Saini shot to limelight during his stint as IG (Intelligence) for busting Punjab Public Service Commission (PPSC) scam in 2002 involving then PPSC chairman Ravi Sidhu. During the investigations, some judges’ role was also put under scanner.
In 2007, when Saini was the Vigilance Bureau chief, former DGP S S Virk was booked in a disproportionate assets case. Virk had termed the case as illegal and in 2017 a special court in Mohali had ordered cancellation of FIR after the Punjab Vigilance Bureau told court that there was no substantial evidence against Virk.
In March 2007, Saini, who was then the VB Director, had ordered registration of an FIR in Ludhiana City Centre scam, in which Capt Amarinder Singh was named among the accused. Amarinder was discharged in the case last year. When VB filed cancellation report, Saini filed an application challenging it and seeking to be heard in the case. However, Saini’s application was eventually not entertained by the court.
After the formation of Congress government in Punjab led by CM Amarinder Singh, Saini has also been questioned by a Special Investigation Team probing police firing and use of force by the police during protests against 2015 sacrilege of Guru Granth Sahib.
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