A division bench of the Punjab and Haryana high court on Tuesday set aside its single-judge order of handing over the examination of 10 alleged fake encounters to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).
The police encounters came in Moga, Faridkot and Ferozepur during Punjab’s militancy days in the early 1990s. In its 52-page judgment, the division bench comprising chief justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul and justice Augustine George Masih also passed strictures against justice Ranjit Singh (now retired) for his “sweeping observations” against Punjab Police and treating the petition as public-interest plea without proper authority.
The original petitioner, dismissed police constable Satwant Singh Manak of Talwandi Bhai village in Ferozepur district, was also directed to pay Rs 2,000 each to the appellant police officers and the state. The bench said that the petition was based on “sketchy facts” and should have been dismissed at the threshold.
The court also said the petition by Manak, who claimed to be eyewitness, was “clearly an abuse of the process of court, accentuated by his desire for personal gains in the form of monetary and medal awards, and his frustration at having been denied the same, besides the departmental action and criminal prosecution initiated against him.”
In the order dated April 1, 2008, based Manak’s petition filed in 1994, judge Ranjit Singh, now retired, had handed over the investigation to the CBI. When the state government and the affected police officers challenged the single-judge order before the division bench through senior advocate Puneet Bali, it was stayed in May 2008. Since then, the case was before the division bench, which had reserved it for judgment on September 3.
Strictures against former judge
“Temperance in judicial language cannot be sacrificed at the altar of personal perceptions and that too dehors any specific facts… single judge (Ranjit Singh) rather than dismissing such a petition, on the basis of his personal perceptions especially qua the Punjab police, has proceeded to issue wide-ranging directions by concluding that the investigation would get to the bottom of the matter. It is not an innocuous direction,” the court remarked.
The bench added: “It required at least some appropriate material to be on record with proper averments to come to a conclusion that such an investigation was necessary.”
It further observed: “Neither were general observations made by the learned single judge warranted nor was the learned single judge entitled to entertain and adjudicate the PIL.”
‘All can’t be painted with same brush’
The court said that give the fact that Punjab went through difficult times requiring special efforts to maintain law and order, in which the police role was salutary, some excesses might have been possible but that did not make these a rule. “If there was inappropriate conduct of certain police officers, the entire force cannot be painted with the same brush, denigrating and belittling their efforts,” the court said.
Police officers who had challenged the single-judge order include additional director generals Jaswinder Singh and MK Tewari; inspector general Ishwar Chander; deputy inspector general A Gautam, retired inspector general Bakhashi Ram; and former superintendents Surjit Singh and KB Singh. The petitioner had accused these officers of not acting on his complaints about the fake encounters.
Nirmal Singh Nimma, Rajeana village (Moga); Baljit Singh, Vadda Ghar village (Moga); Kulwant Singh Kanta, Ghumiara village (Faridkot); Baljinder Singh Bijliwala, Ghumaria village (Faridkot); Kartar Singh, Karmitti village (Ferozepur); Bahal Singh, Padhari village (Ferozepur); Satwant Singh Sodhi, Chaugawan village (Moga); Gurmukh Singh, Langeana village (Moga); Gurcharan Singh, Bedi Nagar village (Moga); and Nachhattar Singh Fauji, Daudhar village (Moga).
1990 1991 1992 1993 Total
Civilians killed 2,467 2,591 1,518 48 6,624
Cops killed 506 497 252 25 1,280
Police encounters 746 1,282 1,399 571 3,998