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Monday, July 23, 2018

Why summons to Punjab leader Sukhpal Singh Khaira has AAP on backfoot

Following summons and non-bailable warrants issued for him, Khaira moved the Punjab and Haryana High Court on November 3 seeking their quashing.

Written by Man Aman Singh Chhina | Published: December 1, 2017 2:33:37 am
sukhpal khaira, punjab assembly, indian express Sukhpal Khaira breaks down during a press conference after the Assembly session on Wednesday. (Express photo by Jaipal Singh)

Punjab Leader of Opposition and AAP leader Sukhpal Singh Khaira has been summoned by a court in Fazilka to face trial in a drug smuggling case. The summons have come as a setback to AAP, which had fought the Assembly elections earlier this year on an anti-drugs plank, and resulted in sharp attacks from the SAD, Congress and BJP. Man Aman Singh Chhina explains:

What is the genesis of the case against Khaira?

The drug smuggling case in which Khaira has been summoned dates back to March 2015 when an FIR was registered against nine people, including Gurdev Singh, a close associate of Khaira. The FIR was registered on March 5, 2015, at Sadar police station, Jalalabad, in Fazilka district under sections of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act. The accused were arrested on March 8, 2015, and 2 kg heroin, 24 gold biscuits, one country-made pistol, .315-bore pistol and two Pakistani SIM cards were recovered from them. Khaira was not named as an accused in the FIR, nor was made an accused by the police in the chargesheet.

How did Khaira’s name figure in the case?

The trial in Fazilka concluded on October 31, 2017. All nine accused were found guilty and sentenced to 3-20 years’ imprisonment. Before the trial concluded, the prosecutor recalled two witnesses, SP Ajmer Singh and Inspector Jaswant Singh, to again depose in court. A third witness, Constable Ravinder Pal, was also called as a witness and he presented phone call details of Khaira, which linked him to Gurdev and his sister who is based in UK. On being re-called, Ajmer Singh and Jaswant Singh deposed that during the investigation, material had emerged regarding involvement of Khaira and some others and that this fact was also reflecting in the case diary of the SP.

What are prosecution’s allegations against Khaira?

Following the witnesses’ fresh statements, the prosecutor filed an application before the judge on October 21 stating that Khaira along with his personal security officer (PSO) Joga Singh, personal assistant Manish, UK-based Charanjit Kaur (sister of Gurdev) and one Major Singh Bajwa of Bajwa Kalan village (Jalandhar) should be summoned and made to face trial. Khaira was alleged to have been in regular touch with Gurdev and his sister even a day before Gurdev’s arrest using the mobile phone of his PSO and personal assistant. The prosecutor cited in his application that Khaira was the “kingpin” of the drug smuggling case.

What were the court’s orders?

On October 31, the trial court judge allowed the application and summoned Khaira and four others to face trial. He also issued non-bailable warrants for production of the accused on the next date of hearing on November 30, 2017.

What has been Khaira’s defence?

Khaira has termed the development an act of political vendetta by the Congress government as he has been instrumental in exposing corruption in sand mine auctions involving Irrigation and Power Minister Rana Gurjit Singh. He has said that under the SAD-BJP government, an SIT was formed in March 2015 to look into the drug smuggling racket. The SIT did not name him as an accused, Khaira claimed. He also accused the state government of using the prosecution machinery as a tool to silence his voice against corruption.

What is the present status of the case?

Following summons and non-bailable warrants issued for him, Khaira moved the Punjab and Haryana High Court on November 3 seeking their quashing. The court on November 11 quashed the warrants but directed Khaira to appear in the Fazilka court. However, Khaira did not appear on Thursday, and the court issued fresh summons for December 21, the next date of hearing. Khaira claimed his arrest warrants had been stayed by HC, so there was no need for him to appear in person. He has also moved the Supreme Court contesting the summons.

How has AAP reacted?

While AAP’s Delhi leadership maintained silence over the summons to Khaira, the Punjab leaders sided with him after initial demands from some quarters that he should give up the post of LoP. State president Bhagwant Mann and co-president Aman Arora issued statements in favour of Khaira.

How have other parties in Punjab reacted?

The SAD-BJP alliance, which was at the receiving end of AAP’s campaign against drugs before the Assembly polls, have gone on the offensive seeking Khaira’s sacking. Joint delegations of both parties met the Speaker and Governor seeking Khaira’s removal as LoP and questioned Arvind Kejriwal’s silence on the issue. The Congress also demanded Khaira’s removal as LoP.

The issue rocked the Punjab Assembly as well. The House on Wednesday adopted a resolution condemning Lok Insaaf Party (LIP) MLAs Simarjit and Balwinder Singh Bains for making “scandalous allegations” against a HC judge for “political purposes”. The resolution was moved amid a walkout by opposition AAP and LIP MLAs. Khaira called it a “malicious attempt” and a conspiracy.

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