Punjab and Haryana High Court: Rajbir Serawat, J., addressed the controversial case of regarding three incidents of alleged sacrilege qua Guru Granth Sahib-the Holy Book of Sikhs. The Court was dealing with the incident of Kotkapura firing, wherein the petitioner had sought for quashing of the reports of the Commissions of Inquiry asserting that they have been named in the report without having been granting any opportunity of hearing. The Bench, which while going hard on the manner of investigation, stated,
“What could have been a simple investigation of a crime committed either by the protestors or by the police or by both, have been made to fester and convert itself to a quagmire wherein every concerned person finds himself entrapped.”
The case relates back to the protest held against the incident of alleged sacrilege; wherein some Saroops (Books) of Guru Granth Sahib went missing from a Gurudwara and two hand written posters containing some sacrilegious contents qua Guru Granth Sahib were found pasted near a Gurudwara. During the process of maintaining the law and order some police persons were seriously injured and one protestor was alleged to have received grievous gunshot injury on thigh and some other persons are alleged to have received minor injuries.
Total 47 police persons got injured at the hands of protestors. The public sentiments got aroused and the issue was further aggravated by the religious leaders. Meanwhile, keeping in view the public outcry for justice and to ensure a fair investigation, the then State Government had referred the all the FIRs related to sacrilege to CBI.
Later on asserting that the earlier report of Justice (Retired) Zora Singh Commission was inconclusive, the incoming State Government set-up another Commission of Inquiry into the incidents of sacrilege, as well as, into the police firing at Kotkapura, by appointing Justice (Retired) Ranjit Singh to head the Commission, which recommended registration of criminal cases against the police persons and some political functionaries.
Withdrawal of Investigation from CBI
Since there was resentment in political circles against handing over the investigation to the CBI, the State Government had put up the matter before the State Legislative Assembly, which passed a resolution calling upon the government to take back the investigation from the CBI. Consequently, the matter was withdrawn from the CBI and the same was handed over to the Punjab Police. A Special Investigation Team (SIT) was constituted for this comprising of 5 officers including Senior IPS Officers. However, allegedly, Sh. Kunwar Vijay Pratap Singh (respondent 3) tried to exclusively take over the investigation by excluding the other members of the SIT. Hence, allegedly, they wrote letter to DGP raising their protest expressing their dissent qua the investigation being conducted by the respondent 3.
It had been alleged by the petitioner, that the respondent 3 had tried to bulldoze the SIT and be a de-facto boss, despite two IPS officers senior to him being there in the SIT. Allegedly, since the respondent 3 was acting as per the preplanned agenda to further the political plans of the current political dispensation, therefore; subsequently, he was made de-jure head of the SIT by the DGP, Punjab. Reportedly, the respondent 3 did not carry investigation qua FIR No. 192 dated 14-10-2015 which contained the first version of the incident recorded by the police. On the contrary; he exclusively conducted the investigation in FIR No. 129 dated 07-08-2018, which dealt with protestor’s version of the incident.
A Dangerous Mixing of Religion, Politics and Police Administration
Evidently, the respondent 3 had a tendency of misusing his official position and authority in performance of his duties, i.e. to bulldoze and deviate the process, as well as, to make an attempt to over awe the judicial process. Reportedly, when he could not get remand of the petitioner for desired period he went to the extent of alleging that the reason that the CJM granted only two days remand was CJM’s close family linkage with Prakash Singh Badal, the outgoing CM of Punjab while no details of such family linkage was given on record. This mischief was done by the respondent 3 only to pressurize the Courts at Faridkot and to overawe the judicial process. The Bench expressed,
“The respondent 3 is a person who indulges in misuse of his official position to further his designs; makes attempt to over-awe the processes and the authority and who indulges in theatrics and political maneuvering to draw mileage out of it.”
In April 2019 when the Parliamentary Elections were taking place, the respondent 3 gave interview to a TV Channel and named certain political leaders of the party rival to the political dispensation heading the current government; knowing that such an interview at such a juncture would enhance the political prospects for one political party and would damage the political prospects of another political party. For which the Election Commission had debarred him from election duty during that election. Political patronage of the respondent 3 is evident from the fact that the government did not remove him from the investigation despite the orders of the Election Commission (ECI). The political backing of the respondent 3 further becomes clear as the top functionaries of the political party heading the present government, as well as, the CM itself wrote to the ECI for revoking the order passed against the respondent 3.
Investigation Tainted by Political Maneuvering
While recording the selective statements of alleged witnesses, the respondent 3 was conducting only manipulative exercise in the name of investigation; to declare some persons as innocent and to make some persons accused at his whims.
The apprehension of the petitioner(s) that the respondent 3 could not be expected to act fairly and impartially in the conduct of investigation; was found to be reasonable one even as per the standards of an ordinary person of ordinary prudence. Through the misadventures of respondent 3, the SIT already constituted was reduced to one man show, although the respondent 3 was a de-facto sole controller of the investigation even earlier. In any case, no law required the respondent 3 to go to media and to give such interview which had political overtones; qua the investigation and during the election time. The Bench expressed,
“All these incidents lend credence to the submission of the petitioner that the respondent 3 was pressurizing him to withdraw the writ petition and to become a witness to implicate the other senior officers of the Police Department and some top political functionaries of the rival political party.”
Was the Firing a Result of Conspiracy Backed by the then CM, Prakash Singh Badal?
During investigation, the respondent 3 had not examined any one of the injured police persons so as to assess the respective assertions of the parties in the FIRs. He had examined only the alleged injured protestors and filed a report; wherein he had declared the firing by the police to be totally ‘unprovoked’ and the protestors to be totally ‘peaceful’.
An allegation was raised by the respondent 3 claiming a conspiracy between the then CM, the then Deputy CM, the then senior police officers and the petitioners on the basis of the call record showing the CM talking to the DGP and the District Administration, as well as, to his political representative in the area. The Court stated that, mere factum of a Chief Minister talking to the District Administration or to the DGP of the State in the times of a situation where the law and order is disturbed, in itself, would not be sufficient to infer his conspiracy to kill or injure anybody through firing by the police upon the protestors, unless there is some other material collected by the investigating officer to establish prior meeting of minds for conspiracy and then directly linking the Chief Minister to such conspiracy.
The Court opined that it rather suggest that the CM was alive to the situation and to his responsibility even in the odd hours. Also, none of the other witnesses was stated to have even remotely suggested that the then CM conspired to kill the protestors by police firing. The Bench further stated that, mustering of police force from various sources of state to control the law and order situation is nothing uncommon. Rather, sensing ill intentions on the part of respondent 3, the Bench said that despite mentioning their names in the charge sheet and recording therein that their conspiracy was established, the respondent 3 did not array the then CM as accused by filing any charge sheet against them which suggest he was waiting for a political horse to be flogged only at an opportune time, whenever the elections are around the corner or when it otherwise suits him.
The integrity of the investigation totally stands demolished because of this manipulation on the part of the respondent 3, as he repeatedly pressed that the police resorted to ‘unprovoked firing’ on ‘peaceful protestors’; despite the fact that the magistrate present on the spot had assessed the situation that had arisen on the spot and had granted permission to use tear gas in the first instance, lathi charge thereafter, and the gun firing at the third stage. As per record, this permission was granted on the basis that the protestors were resorting to large scale violence and destruction of property; and that because of this the situation had gone out of control. Description of Second Inquiry Commission also recorded the protestors to have chased and attacked the police, including with the swords.
Directions by the Court
In view of the above, the fairness of investigation stands vitiated since the investigation conducted by the respondent 3 suffers from malice, irrationality and absurdity. The Bench expressed that in such case the Court is duty bound to step-in to prevent miscarriage of justice, instill confidence in the investigation and also to pre-empt the misuse of the process of the court; by quashing the investigation and the consequent report under section 173 CrPC.
Hence, it was held that the investigation deserves to be conducted by an independent team of senior police officers; by being totally free from all kinds of internal or external extraneous pressures and interference. The matter was disposed of with the following directions:
- State shall constitute a SIT of three senior IPS officers which shall not include the respondent 3. There shall be no interference from any quarter; internal or external; with this SIT qua the investigation.
- The SIT shall not report to any State executive or police authority qua the investigation in question but to the Magistrate concerned.
- The SIT so constituted shall work jointly. All the members of the SIT shall put their signatures on all the proceedings of the investigation as a mark of the fact that they have agreed to the said investigation;
- Once constituted, that SIT shall not be changed by State except in case of retirement, incapacity or death of the officer concerned;
- The members of SIT shall not leak any part of the investigation, before filing the final report and shall not interact with media qua any aspect of investigation.
[Gurdeep Singh v. State of Punjab, CWP No. 17459 of 2019, decided on 09-04-2021]
Kamini Sharma, Editorial Assistant has put this report together
Appearance before the Court by:
Counsel for the Petitioner: R. S. Cheema, Senior Advocate, with K. S. Nalwa, A. S. Cheema and Chakitan V. S. Papta
Counsel for the State: Pankaj Singhal
Counsel for CBI: Sumeet Goel