Punjab: In list of prisoners picked for special remission, man acquitted by SC in 2017

Navjeevan Gopal
A government functionary said that after the goof-up was noticed, concerned officials decided to bring the matter to the notice of CM Amarinder Singh. (Representational photo)

A man acquitted by the Supreme Court in January 2017 figures among the eight Sikh “prisoners” recommended for grant of special remission of their “sentence” by the Centre. The list of prisoners was prepared by the state and later cleared by the Centre. While Harjinder Singh alias Kali (55) made it to the list based on his conviction in November, 2012, what both the Centre and the state overlooked that he was acquitted by the Supreme Court in January, 2017 along with nine others.

Harjinder Singh and others were named as accused in a Rs 5.7 crore bank robbery and TADA Act case of 1987. But he was acquitted of all charges and now does farming in his native village, Lalton Khurd, in Ludhiana district. However, the list of prisoners recommended for special remission by Centre accessed by The Indian Express reads Harjinder Singh who was sentenced 10 years rigorous imprisonment, was “currently on bail granted by the SC on 12.01.2017”.

When contacted, Harjinder Singh told The Indian Express over phone that an official from Nabha jail called him up some days ago and asked him to bring the copy of the court judgment in a “threatening tone”.

Harjinder added that the official told him that some list of prisoners was to be sent to Centre for remission and he needed the copy. “Officer mainu phone te dhamki de baitha ki order di copy leya ke de nahin taan main panga paa dun (the officer threatened me on phone asking me to bring the copy of the court order else he will create trouble for me),” Harjinder said, adding that he got irked over this and told the officer that he had been “acquitted by the Supreme Court” and not him. “I told him, ‘do whatever you want to’,” he said.

Harjinder further added, “I told the officer that it was the reponsibility of the jail department to keep copy of such orders. I would have provided the copy had he requested humbly. I told him that I was not afraid even inside jail and how could I be afraid when I have been acquitted.”

Asked if he was aware that his name was among the prisoners whose cases had been recommended for special remission by the Centre, Harjinder said, “No. I am learning this from you.”

Harjinder said his name was among the list of prisoners sent by the previous SAD-BJP government to the Centre when Gurbakash Singh Khalsa — a Sikh activist who died in March 2018 — had observed hunger strikes running into several days to demand release of Sikh prisoners.

“They do not maintain the records properly,” said Harjinder, speculating that his name may have been sent to the Centre because the jail officials forgot to update their record.

“I was the youngest among the prisoners whose names were sent for special remission at that time. The oldest one in that list was 94-year-old who died in 2017,” said Harjinder, adding that another co-accused in the robbery case, Gurjant Singh, who was among the ten acquitted by the Supreme Court on January 12, 2017, has also passed away.

On the occasion of commemoration of 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev, Centre had on September 27 decided that eight Sikh prisoners lodged in various Punjab jails may be granted special remission and death sentence of Balwant Singh Rajoana, the key conspirator in then Punjab CM Beant Singh’s assassination case, maybe commuted to life imprisonment.

While Beant Singh’s grandson and Lok Sabha MP from Ludhiana, Ravneet Singh Bittu, had reacted sharply to the reports of Centre recommending commutation of Rajoana’s death sentence, Punjab CM Amarinder Singh had said that the state had no role in the matter as Centre had demanded a list of 17 prisoners convicted under TADA and Rajoana’s name was “in the list of the 17 submitted by the state government to the Centre as he was a TADA prisoner who had completed more than 14 years in jail, like the other prisoners on the list.”

Principal Secretary Jails R Venkat Ratnam, when asked about the Harjinder’s case, said, “My department did not send the list.”

A government functionary said that after the goof-up was noticed, concerned officials decided to bring the matter to the notice of CM Amarinder Singh. The functionary added that the CM put “seen” remarks on the file and after that jail authorities made frantic efforts to get the Supreme Court order.

Harjinder described the 1987 heist at Punjab National Bank as “biggest in Asia at that time” and “second biggest in World after Germany”. In the robbery case, a designated trial court had sentenced him to ten years in prison. Supreme Court however acquitted him in January 2017.

Other prisoners on the list

Commutation of death sentence

* Balwant Singh Rajoana: Recommended for commutation of death sentence. He is currently lodged in Patiala Central Jail. He was sentenced to death in Beant Singh assassination case, registered at Chandigarh on August 31, 1995. Rajoana’s scheduled hanging on March 31, 2012 was stayed by Centre following a mercy petition filed by the SGPC on his behalf.

Special Remission

* Devinderpal Singh Bhullar: TADA convict Devinderpal Singh Bhullar, whose death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment by the Supreme Court on March 31, 2014, has also been cleared for release from jail by granting special remission. Convict in 1993 Delhi bomb blast case, Bhullar was shifted to Amritsar Central Jail from Tihar jail in June 2015. From Amritsar jail he was shifted to a government facility for psychiatry treatment. Bhullar has spent over 23 years in prison.

* Gurdeep Singh Khaira: Another TADA convict undergoing life imprisonment Khaira has spent more than 29 years actual sentence in prison and is currently lodged in Amritsar Central Jail where he was transferred from a jail in Karnatka, days after Bhullar was transferred to Amritsar from Tihar jail. Khaira was sentenced to life in case where he was booked for murder and under Explosive Substances Act at Bidar police station in July 1990. In another case, as per the list, he was awarded life imprisonment in another case registered at Trilokpuri police in Delhi in 1990 under Section 302 (murder), 307 (attempt to murder) of the IPC and sections of TADA and Explosive Substances Act. He was also sentenced to six years in prison in a case registered at Krishna Nagar police station Delhi in 1990 under Section 387 (Putting person in fear of death or of grievous hurt, in order to commit extortion) of the IPC.

* Waryam Singh alias Giani: Waryama Singh had “absconded from parole from July 7, 2009 to April, 2, 2010”. Waryam Singh (78), as per the details in the list, is a resident of Seoli village under Lalru police station in Mohali district and was sentenced to ten years imprisonment in a murder case dating back to April 3, 2003. The case was registered at Raipur Rani police station in Haryana.

* Lal Singh: Another TADA convict serving life sentence, Lal Singh (63) who is lodged in Maximum Security Jail Nabha and has undergone actual sentence of over 26 years.

* Balbir Singh: Balbir Singh is lodged in Ludhiana Central Jail and as per list was convicted in Punjab in a case involving offences under IPC and under sections of Explosives Act. The case was registered at Raikot police station in Ludhiana in June 2009.

* Subeg Singh and Nand Singh: They were sentenced to life in a murder case registered at Chandigarh in February 1995 and who have served more than 24 years and 23 years of actual sentence in prison, respectively. Their cases have been cleared by Chandigarh Union Territory authorities. They are currently lodged in Patiala Central Jail. As per a Punjab jails department official the duo would be released after some procedural things like furnishing of bonds, which could not be completed due to holidays.