Justice (retd) Ranjit Singh Thursday moved the Punjab and Haryana High Court against former Punjab deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal and senior Shiromani Akali Dal leader Bikram Singh Majithia for their “deliberate and defamatory statements against him” in connection with the report of the Commission of Inquiry set up to investigate various incidents of desecration in Punjab.
The criminal complaint case was cleared by the High Court registry on Thursday and is set to come up for hearing next week. The case has been directly filed before the High Court under the provisions of Commissions of Inquiry Act. The complaint has been filed through advocate Himmat Singh Deol and will be argued by Senior Advocate Amarpreet Singh Deol.
Justice Ranjit, a former judge of the Punjab and Haryana High Court, headed the commission that was set up by the Captain Amarinder Singh-led Congress government in April 2017 to probe into the sacrilege incidents of 2015 and the killing of two civilians in police firing on people protesting the desecration of Guru Granth Sahib. The commission submitted its report in July 2018.
“The case pertains to the utterances and disrespect shown by Mr Badal and Mr Majithia. The utterances were made after the Ranjit Singh Commission report was tabled in the Assembly. The case has been filed under Section 10A of the Commission of Inquiry Act,” Amarpreet Singh Deol told The Indian Express.
Section 10 A of the Commission of Inquiry Act deals with penalty for acts calculated to bring the commission or any member thereof into disrepute. The provision says: “If any person, by words either spoken or intended to be read, makes or publishes any statement or does any other act, which is calculated to bring the Commission or any member thereof into disrepute, he shall be punishable with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to six months, or with fine, or with both.”
No High Court can take cognizance of the offence unless the complaint has been made within six months of the offence.
While the compliant would be tried like a normal criminal case filed before a magistrate, the provisions of the Act say the personal attendance of the complainant is not required in such trial. The appeal can be filed against the High Court decision within a period of 30 days from the date of judgment.
In the complaint, Justice Ranjit has said that since the inquiry pertained to the happenings which had taken place during the rule of Shiromani Akali Dal “it is natural that the findings and the recommendations of the Commission did not go down well” with (Sukhbir) Badal and certain other members of the SAD. “As a result, immediately upon the publication of the Inquiry Report, (Sukhbir Badal) and his associates embarked upon a tirade to publicly undermine and ridicule the commission as well as the present complainant”.
In the evidence against Sukhbir Badal, Justice Ranjit said that the former deputy CM addressed a press conference in Amritsar in August 2018 where he is said to have questioned his law degree and also is quoted as having said, “I think Justice Ranjit Singh is neither a Justice nor a Sikh.” Sukhbir, in the press conference, had accused Justice Ranjit of fabrication of documents and also threatened him of an FIR.
“It was stated that the chairman of the commission, i.e. the present complainant, was neither a ‘Justice’ nor a ‘Singh’. By saying so, Respondent No 1 not only attacked the religious status of the present complainant, but also attacked his status as a former Judge of this Hon’ble Court,” the complaint read.
Justice Ranjit has said further Sukhbir and Majithia, outside the assembly on August 27 in 2018, had mocked the report and staged its “sale”. In reference to Majithia, the complaint has said, “the respondent No 2 also addressed some members of the Press, wherein he unabashedly referred to the present complainant as ‘injustice’ Ranjit Singh only to malign him”.
Stating that the offences have been committed within the past six months, Justice Ranjit has said that the videos of their statements and acts continue to remain available on web, thus the offence is continuous one.
Ranjit Singh Commission in the report, while talking about the police action taken against the people who were protesting the sacrilege, said, “Chief Minister Prakash Singh Badal was not only in touch with district administration but was in touch with DGP as well and was quite aware about the situation developing at Kotkapura and also about the proposed action by the police”. It also added that that it would reasonable to infer that the DGP had either discussed or apprised the Chief Minister about the proposed action in getting the dharna site cleared by using force. Two people were killed in the police action.
In the complaint, Justice Ranjit has noted that notices were issued to Badal asking him to appear before the Commission. “However, Respondent No.1 refused to appear before the Commission; and, instead, resorted to using insinuating language against the Commission in electronic and print media,” the report reads.