Slamming Patiala jail authorities, a Chandigarh court on Tuesday returned the execution order of Balwant Singh Rajoana — a convict in the former Punjab chief minister Beant Singh assassination case — to the Patiala jail superintendent for compliance.
Dismissing the petition of Patiala Central Jail superintendent Lakhwinder Singh Jakhar seeking deferment of the execution, additional district and sessions judge Shalini Singh Nagpal said the order must be carried out on March 31.
According to the sessions judge’s earlier orders, Rajoana is to be hanged on March 31 at Patiala Central Jail, where he is currently lodged.
A defiant Jakhar, however, said he was “unable and disabled in law” to accept the court’s death warrant and carry out the hanging, and would approach the Punjab and Haryana high court. Though the Parkash Singh Badal government is exploring all possible options to save Rajoana, 43, from the gallows, the convict has snubbed the Akalis and repeatedly stated that he does not want mercy and wishes to die a “martyr”.
Badal, who went to Delhi on Tuesday to seek expert legal advice on the issue, is expected to meet President Pratibha Patil on Wednesday to discuss the matter, which is turning into a political hot potato for the Akali-led government.
Certain Sikh organisations have giving a Punjab bandh call for Wednesday and Thursday to protest the slated hanging. Meanwhile, dismissing a public interest litigation seeking a stay on the hanging, the Punjab and Haryana high court said on Tuesday that once a sentence has been awarded by a competent court, no other court except the court in appeal or revision can modify the order of sentence.
The Chandigarh sessions court on Tuesday also issued a show-cause notice to the Patiala jail superintendent for contempt of court. “Superintendent, Central Jail, Patiala, Lakhwinder Singh Jakhar, has not once, but on two occasions, refused to execute the warrants of sentence of death by way of written communication on March 19 and on March 24,” Nagpal said. “He has even intended to interfere with the judicial proceedings, obstruct the administration of justice and also lower the authority of the court.”
The sessions judge observed that rules make it “crystal clear” that the death sentence is to be carried out by the Patiala jail superintendent “even though the condemned prisoner may not be originally committed to his jail”.
Commenting on the issue of territorial jurisdiction raised by the Patiala jail superintendent, the court observed, “Since the Punjab government has agreed to the arrangement for transfer of condemned prisoners of UT Chandigarh to Central Jail, Patiala, it does not behove the state of Punjab to refuse execution of warrants.”
The court observed that according to the letter dated August 16, 1982, it was agreed that prisoners of District Jail, Chandigarh sentenced to life terms would be transferred to five central jails in Punjab. “Can the state of Punjab refuse to execute the sentence of life imprisonment awarded to those prisoners on the grounds that it had no territorial jurisdiction?” the sessions judge said.
Meanwhile, the petition filed by the Khalra Mission Committee of Tarn Taran seeking a stay in the hanging came up for hearing before the division bench of justice Hemant Gupta and justice AN Jindal of the Punjab and Haryana high court.
The high court bench observed, “In the present case, as far as this court is concerned, the matter has attained finality when the murder reference as well as the criminal appeal was decided on October 12, 2010. This court in terms of Section 362 of the Criminal Procedure Code cannot modify either the conviction or the sentence. What cannot be done directly cannot be done indirectly as well.”
The petitioner’s counsel also submitted before the high court that an appeal was pending before the Supreme Court at the instance of one of the convicts in the Beant Singh assassination case, and the apex court in exercise of its power under Article 142 of the Constitution can grant benefit to the non-appealing convict — hence, Rajoana’s sentence should not be carried out at this stage.
The division bench also did not find any merit in the arguments of the counsel in which he mentioned two apex court judgments related to the case.
The petitioner had also sought directions to trial courts in Punjab, Haryana and Chandigarh that in instances when sentences of two or more accused were same in the trial court and in case of appeal the sentence of any of the accused is reduced in the appellate court, the same benefit be given to all other accused who had not filed the appeal. On this, the high court said the issue “is required to be raised when the appellate or the revisional jurisdiction is being exercised and not after the announcing of the sentence”.
On March 22, the same high court bench dismissed a similar PIL filed by NGO Lawyers for Human Rights International, stating that a third person had no locus standi(legal right) to challenge the conviction of the convict.
On August 31, 1995 when the then chief minister Beant Singh stepped out of the secretariat, terror outfit Babar Khalsa member Dilawar Singh blew himself up, killing the CM and 16 others
Balwant Singh Rajoana, with an RDX-loaded belt strapped to his body, was a stand-by in case Dilawar’s assassination attempt failed
During trial, Rajoana admitted his role in the assassination and refused to defend himself against conviction