The court of chief judicial magistrate (CJM) AK Jain here on Monday handed three years' jail sentence to preacher Baba Piara Singh Bhaniara and seven others on charges of promoting religious enmity for burning pages of Sikh holy book Guru Granth Sahib in 2001. Held guilty on May 10, they were also fined Rs. 5,000 each but were released on bail immediately after the sentencing on bonds of Rs. 40,000 each.
Others sentenced are Harjit Singh, Jaswinder Singh, Surmukh Singh, Surjit Singh, Bhupinder Singh, Ashok Kumar and Harjinder Singh; five accused, including Bhaniara's son, were acquitted and two died during the trial.
Besides section 153A (promoting enmity between different groups), they faced sections 295A (outraging religious feelings), 188 (disobedience of orders of public servant) and 501 (printing or engraving matter known to be defamatory) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
The administration had made elaborate security arrangements around the judicial complex as Bhaniara's followers and also Sikh radicals opposed to the 55-year-old preacher started assembling there much before 8.30am, when he arrived.
Members of World Sikh Mission and some Akali workers raised slogans against Bhaniara, and later said the punishment was light. Complainant Major Singh's advocate BS Sodhi said he would seek enhancement of sentence, while Baba's advocate Jaspal Singh confirmed the decision to go to the high court in appeal against the verdict.
In all, Bhaniara (or Bhaniarewala) - also in the eye of the storm over his book Bhav Sagar granth -- faced six cases for burning of Birs in 2001. He has since been acquitted in three, and one remains now.
The case in which the verdict came on Monday dates back to September 17, 2001, when he and 14 others were booked for burning some pages of Guru Granth Sahib at a gurdwara at Rattangarh village near Morinda, Punjab.
Fearing for his life, Bhaniara had approached the Punjab and Haryana high court for transfer of cases outside Punjab, and thus all the cases were shifted to Ambala in neighbouring Haryana.
His dera (sect headquarters) is at Nurpur Bedi in Punjab's Rupnagar district bordering Himachal Pradesh.