Updated: January 15, 2021 11:17:03 am
A tourist bus operator, a nut bolt trader, a cable operator and a journalist from Punjab have been served notices for questioning by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) in connection with a sedition case registered against Gurpatwant Singh Pannu, a designated terrorist and the legal advisor of US-based banned pro-Khalistan outfit Sikhs for Justice (SFJ).
The four served notices have been supporting the ongoing farmers’ agitation against the three central agri laws. While the three businessmen, all from Ludhiana, had started a bus service for farmers to reach Delhi, the journalist from Patiala has been vocal on social media in support of farmers. Speaking to The Indian Express, all four distanced themselves from the SFJ and Pannu and claimed that they have been falsely implicated in the case due to their support to the farmers’ agitation.
Those summoned by the NIA include tourist bus operator Inderpal Singh Judge (47), nut bolt manufacturer Naresh Kumar (56), cable TV operator Jaspal Singh (56) and Baltej Pannu (52), a radio and TV journalist working with US and Canada-based media channels. They have been issued notices under section 160 of CrPC for “for the purpose of examination relating to the case” registered under sections 120B (criminal conspiracy), 124A (Sedition), 153A (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race etc) of IPC and other sections of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act against Pannu, Paramjit Singh Pamma, Hardeep Singh Nijjar and unknown others.
The Indian Express has a copy of the notices.
The FIR, registered at the NIA headquarters in Delhi on December 15 last year, says that the SFJ “and other Khalistani terrorist outfits including but not limited to Babbar Khalsa International, Khalistan Tiger Force and Khalistan Zindabad Force” along with their frontal organizations, have entered into a conspiracy to “create an atmosphere of fear and lawlessness and to cause disaffection in people and to incite them towards rising in rebellion” against the Government of India. The FIR states that huge funds are being collected abroad for “on-ground campaign and propaganda against missions” in countries such as the USA, UK, Canada, and Germany among others. “These campaigns are being spearheaded by designated terrorists – Pannu, Pamma, Nijjer and others. It has also been learnt that large amounts of funds so collected are being sent through Non-Government Organizations to pro-Khalistani elements based in India, to undertake terrorist acts and to strike terror in the people of India. SFJ leadership has planned large scale disruptive activities intended to damage government and private property and also disrupt supplies and essential services… . SFJ and other pro-Khalistani elements…through their social media campaign and otherwise, are radicalizing and recruiting impressionable youth to agitate and undertake terrorist acts for creation of separate nation of Khalistan…,” the FIR reads.
Those served NIA notices claimed that they are not associated with SFJ or Pannu in any manner.
Inderpal Singh Judge said that he owns Ludhiana-based Nankana Sahib Transport and runs tourist buses. He said that he along with his friends – Jaspal Singh and Naresh Kumar – had started bus sewa for farmers going to Delhi Morcha from Ludhiana nearly a month back. “I am a businessman. We started the daily bus service from Ludhiana to Delhi for farmers for which we charge nominal rates. I have no connection with Khalistan. I do not know who this Pannu is and why I have been called for questioning. I am not on any social media. We think it is only because of our connection with farmers agitation that we have been served these notices. Our phone numbers were written on the publicity banners of our bus service,” said Judge, adding that he has decided to discontinue the bus sewa from Friday onwards.
Jaspal Singh said that he is a TV cable operator and “only helped Inderpal in the bus service for farmers” as it was very cold and farmers were struggling to reach Delhi. “This is the first time I have heard the name of Pannu,” he added.
Naresh Kumar too said he has no connection with Pannu or SFJ. “I am from Hindu community and we have seen black days of terrorism in Punjab. Why would we support Khalistan? We only organize langar sewa once a year,” he said, adding that he owns own a factory on Ludhiana’s Gill Road where he manufactures nut and bolts. “Jaspal Singh is my partner in wine business. His friend Inderpal started the bus service for farmers and they also got my number printed on the publicity material,” he added.
Journalist Baltej Pannu said that he works for Punjabi Radio USA, Connect Radio Canada and 5aab TV, which broadcasts content in Australia and Canada. “I am actively supporting farmers agitation on social media but I have been speaking against Khalistan and Pannu openly in my radio talks and TV shows. There is no question of collecting any funds for them. Maybe I have been served notice because my surname is also Pannu,” he said.
Meanwhile, Advocate Parupkar Singh Ghumman, president, legal wing, Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), offered ‘free legal aid’ to the four. “Our party president Sukhbir Singh Badal has announced free legal aid for all those persons who are being implicated by central government for helping farmers. From people sending blankets to running free bus service, they are being targeted. We will help them in every way possible,” said Ghumman.
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