Sacrilege & Behbal Kalan Firing Cases: P&H HC Rejects Cops' Plea For CBI Probe [Read Order]
The Punjab and Haryana High Court on Friday rejected a petition for a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe into the sacrilege and police firing incidents of Kotkapura and Behbal Kalan.
Justice Rajan Gupta also upheld the Vidhan Sabha resolution to withdraw consent for CBI probe and did not find fault with the constitution of Justice Ranjit Singh Commission of inquiry for looking into the matter.
Several instances of sacrilege had occurred in 2015 in the State, such as hand-written posters containing sacrilegious content being posted near a Gurudwara and dismantled parts of the Guru Granth Sahib being found on a street. The month of October that year then saw mass protests at Kotkapura and Behbal Kalan, with protestors alleging police inaction in such incidents.
The protests allegedly snow-balled into a major agitation on October 14, leading to police firing causing injuries to several protestors and death of two persons – Krishan Bhagwan Singh and Gurjit Singh.
The government of Punjab then, on October 16, 2015, appointed Justice (retd.) Zora Singh to enquire into the incidents of sacrilege and police firing at Kotkapura and Behbal Kalan. This Commission submitted its report in June, 2016. However, with the change of government in the State, another Commission of Inquiry headed by Justice (retd.) Ranjit Singh was constituted.
This Commission then submitted its report to the State government in June last year, after which the State withdrew consent given to CBI in 2015 for probe in at least three FIRs and setup SIT of Punjab Police instead.
The court was now hearing five petitions filed by former and retired Punjab Police officials, including former Moga SSP Charanjit Singh Sharma, former SSP Mansa Raghbir Singh Sandhu and former SHO, Bajakhana, Amarjit Singh Kalar. They had claimed that the Commission had failed to serve them with a notice and inform them about the testimony of witnesses who had deposed against them.
They had further contended that the Commission had exceeded its scope by adjudicating upon the issues and recommending a course of action. This, they said, could only be in the realm of a court of law.
The court first dealt with the issue of withdrawal of the investigation from the CBI by the Vidhan Sabha. It noted that the CBI had hardly made any headway in the case and upheld the decision.
It observed, "None of the learned counsel referred to any judgment in order to show that there was any fetter on power of State Govt. to withdraw consent in such cases where investigation was transferred from State police to CBI. Besides, due to withdrawal of consent, investigation would continue with one investigation agency and not partially with two separate agencies. The chain of events shows that same are inextricably linked, thus this court does not feel the necessity to interfere in the decision of the State Govt. to withdraw investigation from CBI or to set-aside consequent notifications."
As regards handing over the investigation to CBI, the court opined that this cannot be allowed in view of the law laid down in Romila Thapar v. Union of India, wherein it was held that this would amount to the accused seeking investigation by an agency of his choice—a right which he does not have.
"Besides, this court feels that a separate investigation by two different investigating agencies would not be in public interest, the incidents being inextricably linked," it added.
The court also rejected the challenge to the findings of the Commission on the plea that sufficient opportunity had not been granted to the petitioners to defend themselves and to cross-examine the witnesses. It pointed out that such contentions were without substance, especially in view of the fact that the proceedings before the Commission are not in the nature of a trial.
Furthermore, the court refused to allow a court-monitored the investigation. It then dismissed the petition, while adding that the SIT must not be swayed by the observations of the Commissions, explaining that these are only meant to instruct the government with its efforts to prevent such unfortunate incidents in future.
The SIT would conduct a fair, impartial and speedy investigation undaunted by pressure, if any, internal or external, it observed, adding,
"Any laxity or latitude in such an issue of public importance would be against the right guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India which is fountain-head of administration of criminal justice system. This court has no doubt that for the purpose of arriving at logical conclusion, the SIT shall employ all investigative skills and forensic methods at its command and conclude the investigation expeditiously."
Read the Order Here