It took Ram Avtar nearly 14 months to get bail after he was sent to jail on charges of “sedition” by the Haryana Police who also accused him of firing at police personnel in Hisar when he was actually 180 km away in New Delhi.
At the time that the investigation claimed him to be firing at them, Ram Avtar was “live” on television channels, participating in a protest at Jantar Mantar in support of the controversial godman Rampal.
Released Friday from Hisar central Jail after the Punjab and Haryana High Court granted him bail, Ram Avtar is one among 142 others who were jailed on identical charges after the November 18, 2014 standoff between Haryana Police and Ram Pal supporters. The clash took place at the godman’s sprawling Satlok Ashram at Barwala in Hisar district. Five persons had died that day.
Ram Avtar, who holds a Masters degree in Sciences and is a law graduate, was picked up by a team of Haryana Police from Gurgaon on the night of November 18, 2014. Earlier in the day, police had launched a crackdown on Satlok Ashram and arrested Rampal along with about 900 other people.
From this large number, the Haryana police slapped sedition charges against 142, and lesser bailable charges against the rest. The details of Ram Avtar’s case show how the police tailored the facts to suit the charge.
Police records show Ram Avtar was arrested on November 19. They made him sign a disclosure statement dated November 20, 2014, which read, “I had got a countrymade pistol from the dera of Baba, with which I fired on police. When it started rampage, I concealed the same under earth near the pole standing with north wall, which I can get recovered by way of demarcation”.
Two days later, police got another disclosure statement signed by Ram Avtar. This time, he was shown “resiling” from the previous disclosure and the fresh disclosure was recorded.
In it, Ram Avtar said he had “purchased a licensed gun about 12-13 years ago”. The disclosure gave more specific details. “I wore black apparels, took my licensed gun, went on roof and fired on police force on November 18”. The police said in the chargesheet that they had found the gun.
The experts of the Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL), Haryana in their report, dated August 3, 2015, on Ram Avtar’s gun mentioned that the gun was though in working order, the “time of the last firing could not be given scientifically”.
However, the same man, Ram Avtar was present in New Delhi on November 18, 2014. Throughout the day, he was being interviewed by electronic media on the protest he was participating in at Jantar Mantar, New Delhi – a fact elaborately highlighted in his petition moved in the Punjab and Haryana High Court on the basis of which he was released on bail.
His petition comprised ample proof — all of it annexed in his petition — that showed Ram Avtar was not in Hisar at the time when police records showed him firing at them.
A footage of Nilokheri toll plaza, procured by his advocate from NHAI under the RTI Act, showed Ram Avtar crossing the plaza in a car with a Supreme Court advocate at 8.01 am on November 18, 2014. He reached Jantar Mantar, New Delhi around 12 noon and was interviewed by a news channel. From 12.30 pm – 4.30 pm, he was participating in a protest in a CD prepared by Delhi police to identify the protestors at Jantar Mantar. The CD was procured by his advocate under RTI Act from Delhi police.
At about 3.30 pm, he was again interviewed by a TV channel at Jantar Mantar amidst the protest. At 4.30 pm, he was giving an interview to a national news channel “Live”. At 6.30 pm, he was present in the news studio of a news channel in New Delhi and 8.30 pm, he was again in the studio of another news channel being interviewed. The channel’s vehicle dropped him to Gurgaon in Sector 40 at 10.35 pm. Three minutes later, he was picked up by the Haryana police.
The court did not make any observations on the merits of the case while granting bail.
“Even though the charges against the petitioner are serious in nature, yet keeping in view the contentions raised by the learned counsel for the petitioner and coupled with the incarceration already suffered, ie in excess of 15 months and without making any observations on merit, he is held entitled to the benefit of bail,” the order reads.
Ram Avtar and his wife, who waged a lonely battle for his release, refused to comment on the case.