The Punjab and Haryana High Court on Tuesday commuted the death sentence to life imprisonment for the "mastermind" behind the assassination of Punjab Chief Minister Beant Singh in 1995.
The court ordered that Jagtar Singh Hawara, a member of terror outfit Babbar Khalsa International, "shall not be released from prison till the rest of his life".
The court, however, upheld the death sentence awarded by a trial court in July 2007 to former Punjab Police constable Balwant Singh and life imprisonment to former police constable Lakhwinder Singh, truck driver Shamsher Singh and former private sector employee Gurmeet Singh.
Beant Singh and 17 others were killed outside the Punjab and Haryana Civil Secretariat in Chandigarh by human bomb Dilawar Singh.
Aug 31, 1995: Punjab CM Beant Singh and 17 others are killed by human bomb Dilawar Singh outside Punjab and Haryana Civil Secretariat
Sept 1995: Police find abandoned Ambassador with Delhi number. This leads to arrest of Lakhwinder Singh following clues provided by a painter
Sept 1995: Gurmeet Singh, an engineer with BPL, arrested following disclosures by Lakhwinder
January 2004: Three of the nine accused escape. They are re-arrested later.
A division bench of Justice Mehtab Singh Gill and Justice Arvind Kumar held that Hawara’s was a "borderline case for death sentence to be awarded".
The bench did not find any evidence of Hawara's whereabouts after 2:30 pm on August 30, 1995, the day before the assassination. "Though Jagtar Singh Hawara was a part of the larger conspiracy, the only inference we can make is that he was not present on August 30 or August 31, 1995 anywhere near the secretariat or near Chandigarh and that he did not want to be a part of the assassination of former Chief Minister Beant Singh," the judgment said.
The court also did not find evidence for the prosecution's statement that the conspiracy to assassinate Beant Singh was hatched in Pakistan by proclaimed offenders Mahal Singh and Wadhawa Singh and Hawara.
Upholding the death sentence handed to Balwant Singh, the court said it had no other option but to confirm the sentence as he had made three confessional statements and admitted having tied a bomb on Dilawar Singh and said he had no regrets.