The Supreme Court on Thursday granted anticipatory bail to former Punjab Director General of Police Sumedh Singh Saini in connection with a 1991 case of kidnapping and murder, rejecting objections by the Punjab government.
A bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, R Subhash Reddy and M R Shah directed that in case of arrest, “he shall be released on bail on furnishing personal bond of Rs 1,00,000 and two sureties of the like amount, and to surrender the passport and cooperate with the investigation”.
The court noted that a petition filed by Saini seeking quashing of the FIR is pending before it, and that a case of anticipatory bail was made given that the FIR was lodged after nearly 29 years from the date of the alleged incident.
The court said, “…considering the fact that the impugned FIR has been lodged/filed by the brother of the deceased after a period of almost 29 years from the date of incident and after a period of 9 years from the date of decision of this court in the case of Davinder Pal Singh Bhullar…and nothing is on record that in between he had taken any steps to initiate criminal proceedings and/or lodged an FIR, we are of the opinion that at least a case is made out by the appellant for grant of anticipatory bail under Section 438, CrPC.”
It added that “many a time, delay may not be fatal to the criminal proceedings. However, it always depends upon the facts and circumstances of each case. However, at the same time, a long delay like 29 years…can certainly be a valid consideration for grant of anticipatory bail.”
The case relates to the disappearance of a junior engineer, Balwant Singh Multani, in 1991. While the police said he had escaped from custody, the family disputed this.
It was alleged that Multani was abducted from his residence in Mohali, Punjab, by a team of officers allegedly operating under the instructions of Saini and tortured while in custody. “It is further alleged that a false and fabricated FIR…might have been registered at the instance of the appellant to suggest that the victim was brought to the police station, from where the victim was alleged to have escaped,” according to the FIR.
Multani’s brother lodged the FIR in May this year, in which Saini was given anticipatory bail by the Additional Sessions Judge (ASJ), Mohali. Charge under Section 302 was added to the FIR subsequently on the basis of statements of two accused who had turned approver.
Saini again sought anticipatory bail, which was rejected by the ASJ, and subsequently by Punjab and Haryana High Court, following which he approached the SC.
In SC, Saini contended that the FIR is “filed with a malafide intention to harass” him “at the instance of the present party in power in the State”.
Opposing this, it was submitted that the brother had initiated the proceedings relying on liberty granted by the court to Multani’s father in the 2011 Bhullar case — Bhullar was sentenced to death over the assassination attempt on the then All India Youth Congress President M S Bitta — “to take recourse to further proceedings if permissible in law”.
However, the bench pointed out that in the Bhullar case, “this court reserved the liberty in favour of the father of the deceased to take recourse to fresh proceedings by specifically observing that if permissible in law. It is reported that the father of the deceased died in 2014”.
Till 2014, the court said, the father did not initiate any fresh proceedings, and “after nine years from the date of decision of this court in the case of Davinder Pal Singh Bhullar…all of a sudden, now the informant – brother of the deceased – has woken up and has initiated the present criminal proceedings. Whether the fresh/present proceedings are permissible in law are yet to be considered by this Court in the pending proceedings for quashing the impugned FIR.”
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