Why a damages claim for detentions 34 years ago is roiling Punjab today

Who are the ‘Jodhpur prisoners’ who were detained after Operation Blue Star? Why do they want compensation?

Written by KAMALDEEP SINGH BRAR | Amritsar | Updated: June 27, 2018 7:18:10 am
punjab, jodhpur prisoners, operation blue star, golden temple army operation, damages claim for detention, indian express Who are the ‘Jodhpur prisoners’ who were detained after Operation Blue Star? Why do they want compensation?

Punjab Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh Monday said the state would pay the entire Rs 4.5 crore compensation awarded by an Amritsar court to 40 men detained after the Army operation at the Golden Temple in 1984, should the Centre fail to contribute its share of 50%. The CBI has moved Punjab and Haryana High Court against the award of the compensation. What is the background of this case that has triggered disquiet in Punjab, and provoked the CM to warn against stoking “an avoidable sense of alienation and perceived injustice among the (Sikh) community”?

The Jodhpur prisoners

Government records show 1,592 Sikhs were detained from the Golden Temple and nearby inns after Operation Blue Star ended on June 6, 1984. 379 of them were arrested; FIRs were registered against 365 — all alleged first-time offenders — on June 10, 1984. After CBI took over the case, another set of FIRs was filed against these men under the Indian Penal Code, Explosives Act and Arms Act on June 14, 1984. They were accused of waging war against India, and charged with sections that attracted the death penalty. On June 16, they were moved to Jodhpur jail, where they remained for about five years.

In 1989, following negotiations between the Government of India and the Akali leadership, all the accused were released under Section 321 CrPC (withdrawal from prosecution). Some became MLAs, MPs, and ministers; some got jobs with the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee.

Case for compensation

In 1991, 71 of the 365 released Sikhs demanded compensation from the Union government for alleged illegal detention and torture in Amritsar and Jodhpur. After the CBI won the legal battle that lasted 20 years, 41 of the 71 men filed a civil appeal at the District and Sessions court, Amritsar, in 2011. On April 12, 2017, judge Gurbir Singh ordered the central and state governments to together pay 40 appellants Rs 4 lakh each in damages.

What the judgment said

The judgment said the Army and Punjab Police had kept the petitioners in illegal custody at a temporary prison at Kendriya Vidyalaya in Amritsar Cantonment from June 6-14. “Merely registration of FIRs do not prove… (involvement) in the militant activities in and around Sri Harmandir Sahib. So, from the evidence on record, it is proved that initially, plaintiff and others were arrested on 6.6.1984 and were kept in illegal custody… No evidence is there on record that plaintiff had fired towards Army personnel during the Operation Blue Star…”

Also, “…once an individual was apprehended and taken to military camp, then fundamental rights of such individual could not be violated… No evidence has been led by the defendants whether proper amenities of life in Kendriya Vidyalaya… were provided.”

In Jodhpur too, the court said, “rules were not being followed by the Army as well as civil administration”; “order (of) release… was passed on 6.3.1989 but plaintiffs were not actually released”. Overall, “it is a case of malicious prosecution, illegal detention and maltreatment on the part of authorities/defendants”, the judgment said.

Challenge by the CBI

On June 2 this year, CBI moved Punjab and Haryana High Court. It said, “Terrorists/Plaintiffs who were present in Golden Temple complex attacked upon security forces with firearms resulting in heavy casualty and thus, waged war against Government of India.” The district judge “could not appreciate the highly tense and surcharged situation under which such operation was being conducted and it is not possible to produce each and everything in writing”, the CBI said, and argued the lower court “has not considered the Article 15, 19, 21, 22 of the Constitution of India that in the greater interest of the country and for security and integrity of India, restrictions imposed regarding the fundamental rights of the individuals…”

The parties’ position

During its 1997-2002 tenure, the government of Parkash Singh Badal decided to pay Rs 1 lakh compensation to the Jodhpur jail prisoners, a decision that was implemented by the 2002-07 Capt Amarinder Singh government. Both the Shiromani Akali Dal and Congress have now demanded that the union government pay its share of the compensation ordered by the Amritsar court, and not pursue the petition in the Punjab and Haryana High Court.

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