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Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Explained: Why Punjab and UP fought a legal battle over a gangster-turned-MLA’s custody

Supreme Court has ordered the transfer of custody of gangster-turned-MLA Mukhtar Ansari from Punjab’s Ropar jail to Banda jail in Uttar Pradesh within two weeks. How is the issue playing out politically?

Written by Navjeevan Gopal |
Updated: March 27, 2021 1:38:50 pm
Mukhtar Ansari custody, Mukhtar Ansari explained, congress mla mukhtar ansari punjab jail, Mukhtar Ansari transfer Punjab to up, sc mukhtar ansari, indian express explainedMukhtar Ansari is lodged in Ropar jail. (Express File)

Allowing a plea by Uttar Pradesh government, Supreme Court on Friday ordered the transfer of custody of gangster-turned-MLA Mukhtar Ansari from Punjab’s Ropar jail to Banda jail in Uttar Pradesh within two weeks. Punjab government had opposed the UP plea and sought its dismissal. Welcoming the apex court order, Opposition parties in Punjab, Aam Aadmi Party and Shiromani Akali Dal have demanded probe into why Congress government was not transferring Ansari to UP to face trial in number of cases against him. The Indian Express explains how the Ansari saga unfolded, triggering a face off between UP and Punjab that eventually reached the apex court.

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On what grounds, UP government had sought the transfer of Ansari in UP jail?

During the February 24 hearing in the case, the Uttar Pradesh government told the Supreme Court that the Punjab government “is shamelessly protecting” BSP MLA Mukhtar Ansari by not handing over his custody to face trial “in 10 heinous cases of murder, extortion, cheating, fraud” and “gangster acts” in the special court for MPs and MLAs in Allahabad. Ansari is currently lodged in the Roopnagar District Jail (also known as Ropar Jail) in Punjab. Earlier in October 2020, Uttar Pradesh BJP MLA Alka Rai, wife of former legislator Krishnanand Rai who was murdered in 2005, shot off a letter to Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, accusing the Punjab government of helping Ansari evade court appearances in his home state. MLA from Mau Sadar seat, Ansari was named as a key conspirator in Krishnanand’s murder case. A special court in Delhi acquitted him in 2019.

What are the cases against Ansari in UP?

Ansari is a history-sheeter in Mohammadabad police station of Ghazipur district with 38 cases of heinous crime lodged against him. The cases against the five-time MLA are lodged at various police stations in different districts, including Lucknow, Ghazipur and Mau. Ansari has been acquitted in most of these cases.

Why has been Ansari lodged in a Punjab jail?

Ansari was booked for extortion (Section 386 of Indian Penal Code) and criminal intimidation (Section 506 of the IPC) on the complaint of the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Homeland Group engaged in real estate business in Punjab and Delhi National Capital Region. In his complaint to the Mohali SSP, the CEO stated that on January 9, 2019 evening he answered a call from a person who introduced himself as “some Ansari from UP” and asked him to pay up Rs 10 crore if he wanted to ensure the safety of his family. The complainant said he had recorded the call. The police lodged an FIR in which Ansari was named as the accused with his address as Banda, UP. The Punjab Police brought Ansari on production warrant from Banda jail about a fortnight after the registration of this case. He has been lodged in the Ropar jail since then.

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Why Punjab had been justifying to keep Ansari in state jail and not send him for court appearances in UP?

As per Punjab Prisons department, a panel of doctors has “advised Ansari against long travel”. As per a state government functionary, Ansari was advised bed rest by PGIMER, Chandigarh, in 2019 and also by a panel of three doctors in Ropar district in September last year. Asserting that jails department went by “the recommendations of medical officers” the functionary said Ansari was suffering from “back pain and high sugar levels”.

What were the contentions of Punjab and UP in Supreme Court?

Among other contentions, Punjab opposed the writ petition filed by UP under Article 32 of the Constitution, saying only citizens can exercise the right for protection of their fundamental rights and not the state, which has no fundamental right conferred on it. It also submitted that matter was “very serious” and would open “a Pandora’s box if UP’s plea is allowed, as it would lead to a situation where states will come to the court fighting against each other.” UP government, on the other hand, submitted before the apex court that looking at the chain of events and chronology, it appeared that the transfer of custody of Ansari “is meticulously planned and raises a strong suspicion of conspiracy to delay the proceedings before the Special Judge (MP/MLA), Allahabad.” It also told Supreme Court that SSP, Banda jail had been suspended and a departmental inquiry against the officer initiated for giving custody of Ansari to Punjab Police without seeking permission from the Allahabad court.

How the issue is playing out politically in Punjab after Supreme Court order?

Leader of Opposition and Aam Aadmi Party legislator Harpal Singh Cheema said, “There should be a CBI probe into the matter.” He added, “Ansari is kept in Punjab in a minor case, no challan was presented, lame excuses that he is ill were made to evade court appearances. These things raise big questions on [Punjab] Chief Minister (Capt Amarinder Singh) and Jails minister (Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa). The matter should be thoroughly probed.” Cheema further said that by “not transferring Ansari to UP to face trial in cases”, the Punjab government has “played a dangerous role” and “it is injustice to people who were victims in those cases.”

The Shiromani Akali Dal demanded a judicial inquiry into “the criminal conspiracy under which underworld don Mukhtar Ansari was given political shelter by being kept as a state guest in the Ropar jail on a trumped up charge for two years.” Welcoming the judgement, SAD spokesperson Daljit Singh Cheema said the verdict had “lowered Punjab’s image in the country. An impression has gone out that the Congress government in Punjab can stoop to any level to extend protection to a criminal. The verdict is an indictment of the Punjab government which has misused its powers to prevent the transfer of Ansari to UP for two years. The government must answer as to what were its motives to harbor a hardened criminal in its jails and why it went to the extent of spending a huge amount of money to hire top lawyers to oppose Ansari’s transfer to UP.”

The Akali leader demanded the inquiry “cover all these aspects as well as the case in which Ansari had been arrested and brought to Punjab” after a property dealer received a threat from “one Ansari” on January 7, 2019.” He said, “Despite the vague nature of the complaint, the Mohali police moved with lightening speed to register a case in the matter the very next day, got a production warrant against the gangster on January 12 and presented him in court on January 22. Following this, the Mohali police moved into reverse gear and failed to present a challan in the case for 60 days.”

The Akali leader further said that Ansari did not apply for bail and the state government was content with not only keeping him in jail but also providing one excuse after another to him to prevent him from being transferred to UP.

Punjab Jails minister Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa did not respond to the calls made on his mobile phone.

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