2015 Sacrilege Cases: High Court Frames 4 Questions For Larger Bench On Ram Rahim's Plea Challenging Punjab's Withdrawal Of Consent For CBI Probe

Aiman J. Chishti

20 March 2024 1:01 PM GMT

  • 2015 Sacrilege Cases: High Court Frames 4 Questions For Larger Bench On Ram Rahims Plea Challenging Punjabs Withdrawal Of Consent For CBI Probe

    The Punjab and Haryana High Court has framed four questions while referring Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim's plea challenging Punjab Government's withdrawal of consent for CBI probe into 2015 Sacrilege Cases, in which he is an accused. The plea had also sought directions to CBI to continue with the investigation in the Sacrilege cases.Justice Vinod S. Bhardwaj in a detailed...

    The Punjab and Haryana High Court has framed four questions while referring Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim's plea challenging Punjab Government's withdrawal of consent for CBI probe into 2015 Sacrilege Cases, in which he is an accused. The plea had also sought directions to CBI to continue with the investigation in the Sacrilege cases.

    Justice Vinod S. Bhardwaj in a detailed order released today, has framed four questions for consideration of the larger bench and "to balance the equities", stayed further trial court proceeding.

    The matter was referred citing divergence of opinion between two different single Benches of the High Court as regards the validity and sanctity of the Notification as well as the enforceability of the resolution passed by the Punjab Vidhan Sabha to withdraw the investigation from the CBI.

    Following are the questions framed by the Court to be answered by the larger bench:

    i) Whether the Legislative Assembly of a State is competent to issue directions to the State Executive, by passing a resolution, for carrying out investigation in a criminal case through or by any specific agency and as to whether exercise of such a jurisdiction would amount to steering of an investigation?

    ii) Whether it is open to the High Court to re-examine the question of law kept open by the Hon'ble Supreme Court, while dismissing a Special Leave Petition, in a subsequent petition instituted by another accused before the High Court ?

    iii) Whether the State is competent and empowered to withdraw its Notification transferring investigation to the CBI, after registration of a regular case by the CBI or whether final report in such registered cases can only be submitted by the Central Bureau of Investigation?

    iv) Whether principle of 'sub-silentio' would be applicable when the Notification of withdrawal has been upheld by this Court, in another petition filed by other accused, aggrieved of same Notification or whether it operates as a binding precedent for all accused?

    In 2021, Ram Rahim moved High Court seeking a fair and impartial investigation in three different incidents of sacrilege of Shri Guru Granth Sahib between June to October 2015 in Punjab, wherein he is arrayed as an accused by SIT formed by the Punjab Government.

    The Dera chief has challenged the Punjab Government's notification wherein it withdrew its consent to transfer the probe to CBI. The plea also sought directions to CBI to continue with the investigation in the Sacrilege cases.

    The Senior counsel for Ram Rahim argued that Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution mandate a right to fair investigation and that the same has been blatantly violated in the present case.

    The  act of withdrawal of the Notification was propelled by political considerations and under pressure of the religious hardliners. A malafide exercise of the power with dominant object to implicate the petitioner and depriving him of his social life by injuring his reputation, purely for paving a way for political gain ought not to be protected or promoted, she added.

    Whereas, the counsel for the state contended that petition is liable to be dismissed since the issues have already been decided by this Court vide a detailed order passed in Charanjit Singh and others Versus State of Punjab and others, [CWP-23285 of 2018], wherein the Court opined that there was "no infirmity" in Punjab's Government to withdraw consent for CBI probe.

    It is argued that the Notification has already been upheld, there is no occasion or reason for revisiting the said proposition as it would amount to a review of a judgment.

    The State also informed that the two Letter Patents Appeals filed against the judgement were also dismissed.

    Another petition was filed titled as Sukhwinder Singh @ Sunny Versus State of Punjab and another before the High Court challenging the impugned notification which was also dismissed vide judgment dated 04.01.2021 by placing reliance on Charanjit Singh's case [supra],  the state submitted. 

    After examining the submissions, the Court noted that, Supreme Court has repeatedly held that "once an investigation has been entrusted to the CBI and it has registered a regular case thereon, the final report is to be filed by the Central Bureau of Investigation only."

    Doctrine Of Separation Of Powers, A Basic Structure Of Constitution

    The Court noted that the doctrine of separation of powers is recognized as a basic structure of the Constitution of India and the State legislative has to legislate on the subjects under its frame. The doctrine mandates that same person should not form more than one organ of the State and should not exercise the function of other organ of the State.

     While passing a resolution, by the Legislative Assembly, it has to be seen as to whether the same is within the competence of the State legislature as per the power conferred upon it by the Constitution, added the Court.

    Justice Bhardwaj further highlighted that an assembly route can not be adopted to do what the competent authority under Constitution cannot do and be permitted to be devised as a means to over- reach law and the boundaries of Constitutional bodies.

    "Even though power may appear tempting but its exercise has to be shouldered with rationality and not as a means of an aggression reflecting constitutional over-reach. While legislative may discuss an issue, highlight deficiencies, condemn certain aspects, it does not become the executive and take decision for the executive as well," the Judge said.

    The Court noted that authority to change the investigating agencies has often been deprecated in numerous precedents and even the constitutional courts are called upon not to steer the investigation.

    In the present case, the Court observed  that "the notification withdrawing the investigation merely refers to the resolution passed by the Vidhan Sabha and does not reflect any decision making or consideration on the part of the competent Authority."

    Apparently, there was no material available even before the State Legislative Assembly on the basis whereof the Legislative Assembly could be stated to be well-equipped to comment on the stage and the quality of investigation conducted by the Central Bureau of Investigation.

    Adding that "separation of powers is a basic structure of Constitution," the Court said, prohibits over-reach of authority by any of the wings of the State into the territories demarcated for the others to exercise.

    Justice Bhardwaj noted that while the State relies on the binding value to the earlier decisions rendered in Chiranjit Singh's case as well as Sukhwinder Singh's case, the later judgment by a single Bench, in the matter of Gurdeep Singh Versus State of Punjab and others  case [CWP No.17459 of 2019] dilates on the same and dilutes the precedential value thereof.

    In Gurdeep Singh's case the Court held that the the decision in Sukhwinder Singh's case cannot be said to be a binding precedent.

    Consequently, the Court framed the four questions and referred the matter to the larger bench.


    At the centre of the controversy are a series of desecration incidents in the state of Punjab that began with the theft of a copy of the Guru Granth Sahib from a gurdwara in Burj Jawahar Singh Wala village of Faridkot in June 2015. Subsequently, in September, handwritten sacrilegious posters against the holy book sprung up in Jawahar Singh Wala and Bargari villages in Faridkot. In October of the same year, several torn angs (pages) of the holy book were found strewn near a gurudwara in Bargari. 

    As a result of this, massive protests erupted in the state of Punjab. The state police open fired to on the protestors, resulting in the death of two agitators resulting in further social and political unrest.

    A total of 12 people were named in three interlinked cases related to the theft and desecration of the copy of Guru Granth Sahib. The investigation was handed over to the CBI in November by a previous coalition government of Shiromani Akali Dal and Bharatiya Janata Party.

    In June 2019, the CBI filed a closure report stating that no incriminating evidence was found against followers of the Dera Sacha Sauda, but both the ruling Congress and opposition Shiromani Akali Dal rejected the report. Within months, the Punjab government withdrew the consent allowing the CBI to investigate, and the cases were handed over to a special investigation team (SIT) of the state police.

    Trial in all three cases was pending in Faridkot court at the stage of arguments on framing of charges. Marking a complete departure from the outcome of the CBI probe, the SIT named several Dera followers, three national committee members, and the chief of Dera Ram Rahim as accused in the sacrilege cases. Controversial, self-styled Godman Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh has been named as the key conspirator by the Punjab Police.

    In 2023, the Supreme Court directed the trial against Ram Rahim and seven other accused in the sacrilege case to be transferred from Punjab's Faridkot to Chandigarh.

    Title: Sant Gurmeet Ram Rahim v. State of Punjab & Ors.

    Sonia Mathur, Senior Advocate with Advocates Amit Tiwari, Jitendra Khurana, Harish Chabbra, Divik Mathur and Nikhil Chandra Jaiswal for the petitioner.

    Gaurav Garg Dhuriwala, Addl. A.G., Punjab, for respondent No.1.

    Dheeraj Jain, Senior Panel Counsel, Govt. of India, for respondent No.2-Union of India.

    Rajeev Anand, Advocate, for respondent No.3-C.B.I.

    Click here to read/download the order

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