The Punjab and Haryana High Court Tuesday dismissed a petition challenging the recommendations of Justice Ranjit Singh Commission and Punjab government’s Action Taken Report in sacrilege cases and ruled that the appeal filed against the 2019 judgment of a single bench in e matter is not maintainable before the division bench.
The division bench of Chief Justice Ravi Shanker Jha and Justice Arun Palli said the intra-court appeal filed by former SSP Charanjit Singh and Sub-Inspector Amarjit Singh Kalar is not maintainable in view of the law laid down by Supreme Court in ‘Ram Kishan Fauji vs. State of Haryana and Others’ case. In the Fauji case, the apex court held that an order passed by the single judge in exercise of Article 226 of the Constitution relating to criminal jurisdiction cannot be made subject of an intra-court appeal, notwithstanding the nomenclature of the case.
A single bench of the high court in January 2019 had dismissed the civil writ petition challenging the recommendations of Justice Zora Singh Commission and Justice Ranjit Singh Commission set up by the Punjab government to look into the incidents of sacrilege and subsequent police firing in which two civilians were killed in Faridkot in 2015. Following the submission of the report, Punjab Police initiated criminal proceedings against the police officers including petitioner Charanjit Singh. The government’s decision to take back the sacrilege cases probe from CBI and handover it to a state police SIT had also been challenged before the single bench in 2018.
Supreme Court last week dismissed an SLP filed by the CBI against the single bench decision. The SLP was dismissed on the ground of delay as the central agency had approached the apex court more than a year after the single bench decided in favour of Punjab government regarding the power to withdraw its consent for probe by CBI in the cases.
The appeal of the police officers against the same single bench decision remained pending before a division bench, with Punjab Advocate General Atul Nanda on the first hearing itself on February 15, 2019 arguing that the case, which has “overtones of criminal law” cannot be heard in an intra-court appeal as per the law laid down by Supreme Court. With the latest dismissal, the apex court is now the final remedy for the police officials in the matter. Punjab government had filed a caveat before the Supreme Court in January 2019 in the matter and also on January 16 this year.
During the resumed hearing on Tuesday, the division bench observed that the challenge relates to criminal proceedings and said the ramifications of any decision by the division bench will also relate to the criminal proceedings. The Senior Counsel representing the police officers attempted to draw a distinction saying that the challenge is not against the criminal proceedings but only the Inquiry Commission recommendations, adding, they affect the reputation of petitioners. Additional Advocate General Rameeza Hakeem Tuesday reiterated that the appeal is not maintainable due to the Fauji verdict as criminal proceedings are connected to the appeal.
While agreeing with the government counsel, the division bench said the averments and grounds in the appeal against the Inquiry Commission report make it clear that the case is “inextricably” “interwoven” with the action taken report report and consequent action of criminal proceedings initiated by the state.
The dismissal of the appeal by the division comes a day before the CBI court in Mohali is to take a decision on state government’s prayer to restrain the CBI from investigating the sacrilege cases in view of the 2019 single bench verdict. Last month, the trial court had declined the prayer saying the matter regarding CBI’s jurisdiction is pending before the Supreme Court —- the same was dismissed last week.
Observing that CBI had “hardly made any headway” in the cases handed over to it, the single bench had in its ruling had said it is expected that “the SIT would conduct a fair, impartial and speedy investigation undaunted by pressure, if any, internal or external”.
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