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Friday, October 22, 2021

Explained: Refusing to transfer murder case against Sirsa Dera head, how HC paved way for verdict awaited for 19 years

This latest order of the High Court has now cleared the way for pronouncement of the verdict, which is awaited since last 19 years when Ranjit Singh was murdered.

Written by Varinder Bhatia , Edited by Explained Desk | Chandigarh |
Updated: October 6, 2021 1:14:52 pm
Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh (File)

The Punjab and Haryana High Court Tuesday dismissed a plea seeking transfer of the Ranjit Singh murder trial against Dera Sacha Sauda head Gurmeet Ram Rahim from special CBI court (Panchkula) to any other CBI court in Punjab, Haryana or Union Territory of Chandigarh.

The petition, filed by Ranjit Sigh’s son, Jagseer Singh, was pending under litigation since August 24. The HC had also ordered a stay on pronouncement of verdict by the special CBI court, Panchkula. Dera chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh and two others are accused in the case.

This latest order of the High Court has now cleared the way for pronouncement of the verdict, which is awaited since last 19 years when Ranjit Singh was murdered.

The case

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 murdered on July 10, 2002 in the jurisdiction of police station Thanesar, Kurukshetra in Haryana. Ranjit’s son, Jagseer, was 8 years old at the time of the murder. An FIR on charges of murder and criminal conspiracy was registered at police station Thanesar. On November 10, 2003, the HC had ordered CBI investigation in the case.

On December 3, 2003, CBI registered FIR in the case.

In CBI’s probe, Jasbir Singh, Sabdil Singh, Krishan Lal, Inder Sain and dera chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh were nominated as accused. According to the CBI chargesheet, Dera chief suspected Ranjit Singh of circulating an anonymous letter among the Dera followers. The contents of the letter accused Dera chief 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. Chhatrapati was subsequently killed. The Dera chief was recently convicted on murder charges in Chhatrapati murder case.

Since the Dera head suspected Ranjit Singh to be behind that letter, he also allegedly hatched a conspiracy to eliminate him.

Wait for verdict

The charges in the Ranjit Singh case were framed against Dera chief in 2007-2008. The arguments have already concluded in the CBI court and the pronouncement of the verdict is awaited. The case is now scheduled to come up on October 8.

Earlier on August 24, two days before the CBI court was set to pronounce the verdict when Jagseer moved HC seeking transfer of the case to another CBI judge.

Jagseer had alleged that public prosecutor for CBI, K P Singh, was influencing the entire proceedings despite the fact that there were two other Special Public Prosecutors appointed for the trial. On August 24, 2021, Justice Arvind Singh Sangwan of Punjab and Haryana High Court issued a stay order on pronouncement of verdict.

On Tuesday (October 5), Justice Avneesh Jhingan, 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 said: “The apprehensions of petitioner cannot be held to be reasonable, these are imaginary and based upon surmises and conjectures. The trial is at stage of pronouncement of judgment. The petitioner watched and participated in trial before Special Judge since April, 2021 i.e. when he was transferred. The petitioner in garb of transfer petition cannot be permitted to have bench of his choice or to get result of trial as per his wishes. With the advancement of technology and activism of social media, the allegation levelled by such litigants needs to be scrutinised 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 being void of merits.”

Recusals, transfers

Earlier, after hearing Jagseer Singh’s petition on two earlier dates, Justice Arvind Singh Sangwan had recused from further hearings in the case.

“It has come to my notice that I appeared as an advocate on behalf of Ranjit Singh (regarding whose murder trial, this petition arises) as well as his father late Joginder Singh, Sarpanch in 2 civil litigations at Kurukshetra in the year 1986-1988. Let this case be listed before some other bench, after obtaining the appropriate orders from Hon’ble the Chief Justice,” Justice Sangwan had recorded in his order dated September 2, 2021.
Ever before that as per a departmental order dated March 31, 2021, along with transfer of Public Prosecutor K P Singh, P K Dogra, Senior Public Prosecutor was transferred to Chandigarh. It was an administrative decision.

K P Singh was a designated public prosecutor in CBI Court, Panchkula whereas D S Chawla, Senior Public Prosecutor and H P S Verma, Special Public Prosecutor, were specifically appointed for the purpose of trail in Ranjit Singh’s murder case.

However, on September 29, D S Chawla was transferred back to Bhopal from Chandigarh. Chawla’s transfer order, dated September 29, read, “On the recommendations of the Junior Establishment Board and approval thereon of the Competent Authority, Shri Daljeet Singh Chawla, Sr PP, CBI, SCB, Chandigarh is transferred and posted at CBI, ACB, Bhopal, in the same capacity, with immediate effect, in the public interest, till further orders”.

Cases against Dera chief

Decided: Gurmeet Ram Rahim already stands convicted for 20 years rigorous imprisonment regarding the allegation of rape of two women followers vide judgment dated August 28, 2017. He also stands convicted for life for murder of the Sirsa-based journalist Ram Chander Chatterpati.

Pending: Dera chief is facing another CBI case regarding alleged castration of a large number of his followers. On February 1, 2018, CBI had filed a chargesheet in special CBI court (Panchkula) against Gurmeet Ram Rahim 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 the IPC. The Dera head is currently lodged at Sunaria jail of Rohtak, Haryana.

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