As former Punjab DGP Sumedh Singh Saini fights to secure anticipatory bail after being booked in a 29-year-old case of disappearance of a Mohali man, a similar case of alleged abduction of three Ludhiana men back in 1994 drags on against the retired top cop at Delhi’s special CBI court.
On March 15, 1994, Ludhiana-based businessmen Vinod Kumar, his brother-in-law Ashok Kumar and their driver, Mukhtiar Singh, were abducted and illegally detained, allegedly with the involvement of then Ludhiana SSP Saini. Their families believe that the trio were eliminated, though the bodies were never found.
Saini and three other policemen, two of them retired and one still serving, were accused of kidnapping for murder, and CBI filed a chargesheet 20 years ago.
For 23 years, Vinod’s mother, who died at the age of 102 in 2017, fought an unending legal battle for justice. That battle is now being carried forward by her another son, Ashish Kumar.
Talking to The Indian Express over phone, Ashish alleged that the trio was abducted and illegally detained at the behest of Saini because he (Ashish) and Vinod had advanced loans to Ludhiana-based Saini Motors, a car dealership Saini had allegedly a grudge against due to a family tussle.
The case against Saini and others was registered on March 24, 1994 by CBI on directions of the Punjab and Haryana High Court.
Advocate Shelly Sharma, family’s counsel in the case, said the case continues to linger on due to dilatory tactics adopted by Saini.
Sharma said: “CBI filed challan in the case in 2000. From 2001 to 2007, it took seven years for arguments before charges were framed against Saini and three others in January, 2007. Later, they took three and a half years for cross examination of complainant Ashish Kumar.”
In July last year, then CBI investigating officer in the case, Dharampal Singh, who retired as CBI Superintendent of Police, turned hostile and retracted from his own investigation.
Sharma said an application was filed under Section 311 of CrPC and court allowed recalling the then supervisory officer of Dharampal as witness. The case was last heard in March. Asked about the next hearing, the lawyer said that there was little clarity as court work had being hit due to the ongoing pandemic outbreak.
Ashish accused Saini of “threatening judges and witnesses”. He added, “He threatens judges, fabricates documents. He has made a mockery of the system. He has always been saying that he faces a threat. Why was he going to Himachal (after being booked over Mohali man’s abduction in 1991) without security if he had a threat” And it is being said that he entered Delhi. How could he when borders are sealed?”
Rejecting all allegations, senior advocate Ajay Burman, who represent Saini in 1994 abduction case, said: “These are just stories that they (victim’s family) always rake up. There is nothing like that. They are complainant party, so they rake up stories.”
A Mohali court is scheduled to hear, on Monday, Saini’s anticipatory bail plea in the 1991 case of disappearance of Balwant Singh Multani. Saini was booked in the case Wednesday. Balwant Multani too is presumed to be dead. Ashish said, “Such a person should not be given bail. God has not given permission to anyone to kill anybody. Produce a person before court. How can police kill someone? Such a person should not have been made DGP. How he managed to become DGP and get promotions while cases were pending against him is also a question.”
Saini, a 1982-batch IPS officer, was appointed Punjab Police DGP in 2012 by erstwhile Akali government led by Parkash Singh Badal. At 54 years of age, he was the youngest ever DGP, superseding at least four senior officers.
Saini was believed to be the blue-eyed boy of Shiromani Akali Dal president and former deputy CM Sukhbir Singh Badal, who then had the Home portfolio.
All through his career, Saini has had his own set of admirers and critics, in almost matching proportions, within the police department. During terrorism when K P S Gill headed the state police force, Saini was given a free hand. His style of working remained controversial. A section of officers considered him as their role model for his ways to fight terrorism. On the contrary, rights activists projected him as an officer indulging in alleged human rights violations. The places where he served as SSP included Chandigarh, Ludhiana, Batala, Ferozepur and Ropar.
During his posting as Chandigarh SSP, terrorists carried out a bomb blast targeting him. While three policemen were killed, Saini escaped with grievous injuries. Multani was alleged to have been abducted, illegally detained and tortured in connection with this bomb blast as Saini wanted to know whereabouts of now convicted terrorist Devinder Pal Singh Bhullar, suspecting him to be the man behind the attack.
Controversies followed Saini like a shadow throughout his career. In 1992, he was alleged to be involved in assaulting a Lieutenant Colonel in Chandigarh, triggering sharp reaction from Army which was only assuaged following the intervention of then Chief Minister Beant Singh and then DGP K P S Gill.
Later during his stint as police chief, Saini had declined to take Army help when Dinanagar police station came under terror attack. Saini led the force by ensuring his presence in Dinanagar, within hours of the attack.
In post terrorism era Punjab, Saini shot to limelight during his stint as IG (Intelligence) for busting Punjab Public Service Commission (PPSC) scam in 2002 involving then PPSC chairman Ravi Sidhu. During the investigations, some judges’ role was also put under scanner.
In 2007, when Saini was the Vigilance Bureau chief, former DGP S S Virk was booked in a disproportionate assets case. Virk had termed the case as illegal and in 2017 a special court in Mohali had ordered cancellation of FIR after Punjab Vigilance Bureau told court that there was no substantial evidence against Virk.
In March 2007, Saini, who was then the VB Director, had ordered registration of an FIR in Ludhiana City Centre scam, in which Capt Amarinder Singh was named among the accused. Amarinder was discharged in the case last year. When VB filed cancellation report, Saini filed an application challenging it and seeking to be heard in the case. However, Saini’s application was eventually not entertained by the court.
After the formation of Congress government led by CM Amarinder Singh, Saini has also been questioned by a Special Investigation Team probing police firing and use of force by the police during protests against 2015 sacrilege of Guru Granth Sahib.
Following an outrage against the erstwhile SAD-led government in Punjab, Saini had to be shunted out as Punjab DGP in October 2015 and was subsequently appointed as DGP-cum-Chairman of Punjab Police Housing Corporation from where he retired in June 2018 after putting in around 36 years of service.
Relegated to an insignificant posting after his removal as state police chief, Saini did not visit the office in Mohali even as a team of security personnel regularly sanitised his office in anticipation that he may show up.