The Supreme Court on Friday stayed a Punjab and Haryana high court ruling as well as further proceedings pending before Patiala's special CBI court against Punjab police personnel - serving as well as retired - facing charges of fake encounters while fighting terrorism.
The Punjab government had challenged the May 14, 2012 ruling of Justice Mehinder Singh Sullar of the Punjab and Haryana high court, wherein the high court had rejected 35 criminal petitions of the cops and had directed the trial court to start proceedings on a day-to-day basis.
The Supreme Court bench of Justice KS Radhakrishnan and Justice Dipak Misra ordered, "In the meantime, there shall be stay of the operation of the impugned judgment dated May 14, 2012…and stay of further proceedings in the court of additional sessions judge, Patiala."
"The order of the Supreme Court will have a bearing on nearly 150 other similarly-placed police officials of Punjab," Sudhir Walia, a Punjab government law officer, said.
The case of the accused cops before the high court was that since the CBI did not obtain the sanction from the Centre to prosecute them as required under Section 6 of the Punjab Disturbed Areas (Amendment) Act, 1989, and Section 197 of the CrPC, the very initiation of criminal prosecution against them was "bad in law" and that all criminal cases and impugned orders were liable to be set aside.
Section 6 of the Act states that "no suit, prosecution or other legal proceedings shall be instituted except with the previous sanction of the central government" against any person in respect of anything done or purporting to be done in exercise of powers conferred by Sections 4 and 5 of the amended Act.
The high court judge had ruled, "The petitioners-accused are neither entitled to the umbrella of protection under section 6 of the amended Act nor under section 197 of the CrPC. Thus, no sanction whatsoever is legally required to prosecute them for commission of the pointed heinous offences."
Initially, the accused cops had moved applications before the lower court for dropping the proceedings for want of sanction. But the trial court had dismissed their applications through the impugned order of October 1999 and April-May 2000.
Before the high court, the CBI had claimed that all the petitioners-accused cops "hatched a criminal conspiracy…picked up hapless persons…abducted in order to murder…" and staged "drama of false encounters…cremated bodies as unidentified."
The high court stated that the version put forth by the police was found to be totally false "in a professional and scientific investigation by the CBI". In this background, the CBI had registered different cases against the accused cops from 1994 onwards for having committed offences punishable under sections 120-B, 342, 364, 365, 302 and 201 read with Section 34 of the IPC.
The main object of protection under section 6, the high court had stated, was intended to guard and to protect the "responsible law-abiding public servants (not the offenders of heinous crime) against the institution of possibly vexatious and malicious criminal proceeding."
The high court had pointed out that the tendency of the police personnel charged by the CBI for the offences such as "criminal conspiracy, illegal detention, kidnapping and murders etc" to delay the disposal of criminal cases on one pretext or the other had been increasing day by day.
"The instant matters originated from the two-decade-old occurrences are the burning examples of such like cases," the high court had stated.