While India celebrates 64 years of freedom, most people are unaware that Parkash Kaur (95), younger sister of Shaheed Bhagat Singh, has been struggling for 22 years to get justice for her son-in-law, Kuljeet Singh Dhatt. The latter was killed in 1989, allegedly by five Punjab Police cops in Hoshiarpur district.
The case has been pending in the Punjab and Haryana high court for more than 14 years. For over eight years, justice Satish Kumar Mittal reserved judgment after hearing arguments in the case.Kaur, who is based in Canada, was forced to move Supreme Court, which on January 3 had asked the high court to render its judgment by March-end. But even the apex court's order failed to bring respite for Kaur. The high court has still not delivered the judgment or fixed any date for hearing of the case.
Justice Harjit Singh Bedi and justice Chandramauli KR Prasad of the Supreme Court had directed the high court that the copies of the petition and the apex court's order be laid before the HC chief justice so that the judgment could be pronounced within the stipulated time. However, no progress has been made so far.
Senior Supreme Court lawyer Kamini Jaiswal, who represented Kaur in the apex court, said the procedure adopted by the high court was improper and unjust and would result in further miscarriage of justice. She said the petition was moved under Article 32 of the Constitution to redress violation of the right to speedy justice, guaranteed by Article 21.
"It is not the discretion of any court to keep the matter pending and reserved for so long. The entire criminal justice system hinges on speedy justice. In case the high court fails to comply with the order, the petitioner can come back to the Supreme Court for the relief or follow it up at the high court level," she said.
Recently, the Supreme Court had said that cops indulging in fake encounters deserved death penalty. "We know that Kuljeet was eliminated in a fake encounter. But we have no way to prove this unless the high court delivers the judgment," Kaur told Hindustan Times on the phone from Toronto, where she lives with her son, Rupinder Singh.
She revealed that it was on the direction of the Supreme Court that the guilty cops were booked and subsequently arrested. The Punjab government had also granted permission for their prosecution. The cops, however, moved the high court. The plea said the state was under the Punjab Disturbed Area Act, 1983 and only the Centre could have granted sanction for their prosecution.
Harbhajan Singh, Kuljeet's elder brother, who is contesting the case on Kaur's behalf here, said Hoshiarpur was not even covered under the disturbed area as the Act was only applicable to the border districts of Punjab.
Justice Rajesh Bindal of the high court had dismissed a similar plea on February 13, 2010, in a separate case, said Harbhajan.
A panel appointed on the direction of the Supreme Court under senior district and sessions judge HL Randev had indicted the cops for killing Kuljeet, including late SSP Ajit Singh Sandhu, who committed suicide in May 1997, DSP Jaspal Singh, a lifer in the Jaswant Singh Khalra murder case, Sardul Singh, Sita Ram and SPS Basra. Ram is also undergoing life imprisonment in a separate case.
A prime eyewitness, Piara Singh, has already died; two others, Gurmail Singh and Gurmit Singh, are over 80 years old and not keeping good health.
1989: The Hoshiarpur police pick up Kuljeet Singh Dhatt, 35, from Garhi village on July 23, suspecting his hand in the murder of a sarpanch of a nearby village; failing to stir the Punjab government into action, Dhatt's mother-in-law Parkash Kaur and wife Gurmit Kaur move Supreme Court.
September 9, 1990: On the apex court's direction, judicial commission appointed under justice HL Randev (retd).
1993: Commission submits report, indicting five cops, including SSP Ajit Singh Sandhu.
1996: Punjab government appoints then DIG JP Birdi, who retired in 2010 as DGP, as inquiry officer; Birdi, after much dilly-dallying, books five police officers for criminal conspiracy, abduction and illegal confinement; justice AS Anand, then SC chief justice, pulls up Birdi for being biased in favour of the cops and not imposing requisite sections of IPC; Birdi amends FIR and invokes Section 364 (abduction with motive of murder); sections 365, 498, 466, 218, 201 and 120-B of the IPC also slapped.
1998: Charges framed against the accused; the latter challenge sanction for their prosecution; high court stays trial.
2003: On application of Dhatt's brother Harbhajan Singh, case comes up in court of justice Satish Kumar Mittal, who reserves judgment after hearing arguments on February 5.
2008: Harbhajan moves application before former chief justice of high court Tirath Singh Thakur for case transfer.
2009: Case comes up for hearing before justice Rajan Gupta (August 26) and justice AG Masih (September 4), who both withdraw themselves, saying that the case may be transferred to another court; on October 7, case listed for justice KC Puri, who issues notices to accused; when case comes up for hearing on December 10, case file not put up in court.
2010: Harbhajan learns on March 3 that the case has again been listed in the court of justice Mittal, who withdraws too and says case may be transferred, following which case file put up in court of former chief justice Mukul Mudgal.
2011: Since January, case pending in court of justice Nirmaljit Kaur; despite seven dates, it has not come up for hearing; cops have kept taking adjournments, 47 in all, on one pretext or the other.