Punjab director of police (DGP) Sumedh Singh Saini said on Thursday that the demand by agitating activist Surat Singh Khalsa for the release of 82 Sikh prisoners “is neither logical nor legally tenable”.
Saini, addressing a press conference here, said there was no convict in the state who had completed his life sentence. He added that the states have different policies for premature release of lifers on the condition of a minimum number of years in prison. However, since the Supreme Court has barred state governments from remitting sentence of life convicts, there was little the police could do about it, he underlined.
Hardliner activist Surat Singh Khalsa, 75, has been on a no-solid-food strike since January 16 in Ludhiana demanding the release of 82 Sikh prisoners. While the popular perception is that these prisoners have already completed their life sentence but are still languishing in jails, Saini said that 25 of those on the list have not yet been awarded any sentence by any court.
“There are nearly 14,000 undertrials in Punjab jails. and the government cannot interfere in the court procedure to get them released,” said Saini, flanked by additional director general of police (ADGP), prisons, RS Meena, and ADGP, intelligence, HS Dhillon. There are 16 prisoners who have been awarded punishment less than life term, and therefore the government could not get their sentence remitted, he added.
Khalsa’s list includes terrorists such as Harminder Singh alias Mintoo, chief of Khalistan Liberation Force (KLF), the recently re-arrested Jagtar Singh Tara of Khalistan Tiger Force (KTF), and Gurpreet Singh alias Gopi and Ramandeep Singh alias Goldy, who were nabbed from Thailand and Malaysia recently. Rattandeep Singh, chief of Bhindranwale Tiger Khalistan Force (BTKF), who was recently arrested from Uttar Pradesh, is also on the list.
Saini further said in six cases the information circulated by Surat Singh was either wrong or incomplete. Details of the actual prisoners were being ascertained, he added. Another three on the list, according to Saini, have already been acquitted while another three are out on bail.
In the case of 20 life imprisonments, eight pertain to the UT of Chandigarh, four to Rajasthan, and one each to Karnataka and Gujarat.
Three of the five lifers in the state have not yet completed their minimum required sentence to become eligible for consideration for premature release, as per the police chief.
Thus, only two, namely Hardeep Singh and Baaz Singh, are eligible for premature release as they have completed their minimum years of required sentence. “However, in these cases the Supreme Court has restrained the state governments from exercising power of remitting sentence,” said the DGP, adding that the Punjab government had already filed a petition in the apex court on January 8 for an early decision on the matter.
Former militant Gurbaksh Singh Khalsa had also demanded release of Sikh prisoners in December last year. He had taken to a fast-unto-death in Ambala in Haryana and later even tried to lead a protest march to Golden Temple, Amritsar. However he was not allowed to enter Punjab. DGP Saini had on January 7 too held a press conference and said there was no lifer languishing in Punjab jail and the demand made by Gurbaksh was not sound on legal grounds. Thereafter Gurbaksh withdrew his fast.