1991 Balwant Singh Multani disappearance| SC grants anticipatory bail to Punjab’s former DGP Sumedh Singh Saini in a fresh FIR alleging murder

Supreme Court: The 3-judge bench of Ashok Bhushan, R. Subhash Reddy and MR Shah*, JJ has granted anticipatory bail to Punjab’s former DGP Sumesh Singh Saini in Balwant Singh Multani disappearance case and has directed,

“… he shall be released on bail on furnishing personal bond in the sum of Rs.1,00,000/­ (Rupees one lakh only) and two sureties of the like amount and to surrender the passport and to cooperate with the investigation (however without prejudice to his rights and contentions in the pending proceedings to quash the impugned FIR).”

Background

Allegedly, in the year 1991 one Balwant Singh Multani was illegally abducted from his residence at Mohali by a team of officials operating under the instructions of the Saini; that he was severely and inhumanly tortured while in custody, by and at the behest of Saini. It is further alleged that a false and fabricated FIR might have been registered at the instance of the Saini to suggest that the victim was brought to the police station Qadian from where the victim was alleged to have escaped.

His brother had lodged an FIR against Saini on 06.05.2020 initially for the offences punishable under Sections 364, 201, 344, 219 and 120­B of the IPC, and subsequently the offence punishable under Section 302 IPC was added on  the basis of the  statements of the two co-accused who subsequently turned as approver.

The Additional Session Judge and the Punjab and Haryana High Court dismissed Saini’s plea for anticipatory bail.

Relevant grounds on which anticipatory bail was sought

Senior Advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for Saini, argued before the Supreme Court that “the present FIR is filed with a malafide intention to harass the appellant and at the instance of the present party in power in the State.” Even otherwise the present FIR is not maintainable as being a second FIR on the same set of facts and has been registered after delay of 29 years of the alleged incident. It was submitted that earlier attempt to falsely implicate the appellant failed and a similar FIR for the very incident in question and with somewhat similar allegations came to be quashed by this Court in the case of State of Punjab v. Davinder Pal Singh Bhullar, (2011) 14 SCC 770.

It was further submitted that the informant heavily placed reliance upon the liberty reserved in   favour of the father of Balwant Singh Multani to file fresh proceedings, however, during his life time the father of Balwant Singh Multani did not initiate any fresh proceedings and six years after the death of the father of Balwant Singh Multani, the present FIR has been filed after 9 years of the judgment in Davinder Pal Singh Bhullar.

Analysis

Considering the fact that the impugned FIR was lodged 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 in 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, the Court observed that at least a case is made out by the appellant for grant of anticipatory bail under Section 438, Cr.P.C.

“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 as in the present case can certainly be a valid consideration for grant of anticipatory bail.”

On the reliance by the Informant and the State on the observations made in Davinder Pal Singh Bhullar and the liberty reserved in para 117 to the father of the deceased who earlier filed the petition under Section 482 Cr.P.C. to take recourse to fresh proceedings, if permissible in law, the Court noticed that

“… the said liberty was as such in favour of the father of the deceased who in the earlier round of litigation before the High Court filed the petitions under Section 482 Cr.P.C. 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.”

The Court took note of the fact that the father of the deceased died in the year 2014. Till 2014, he did not initiate any fresh proceedings.

“After a period of 9 years from the date of decision of this Court in the case of Davinder Pal Singh Bhullar (supra), 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.”

Conclusion

Hence, considering that Saini has retired in the year 2018 as Director General of Police, Punjab after 30 years of service and the alleged incident is of the year 1991 and even in the present FIR initially there was no allegation for the offence under Section 302 IPC and the allegations were only for the offences under Sections 364, 201, 344, 330, 219 and 120-B of the IPC, for which there was an order of anticipatory bail in Saini’s favour and subsequently the offence under Section 302 IPC has been added on the basis of the statements approvers only, the Court held that Saini has made out a case for anticipatory bail.

[Sumedh Singh Saini v. State of Punjab,  2020 SCC OnLine SC 986, decided on 03.12.2020]


*Justice MR Shah has penned this judgment.

For appellant: Senior Advocate Mukul Rohatgi, 

For State: Senior Advocate Sidharth Luthra, 

For original informant: Senior Advocate K.V. Vishwanathan

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