Vigil was stepped up across Punjab on Thursday amid reports that death-row convict Balwant Singh Rajoana had been shifted from the Patiala central jail to New Delhi for his execution.
The reports, appearing in a section of the media on Thursday, kept intelligence agencies and the police on their toes throughout the day. However, the Punjab Police was in the denial mode.
“All reports of shifting Rajoana are baseless. He is very much present in the Patiala jail. He is facing trial in a case under the Arms Act; the next hearing in the district court here is on March 16,” said Rajpal Meena, additional director general of police (ADGP, prisons).
Rajoana is on death row for the assassination of former Punjab chief minister Beant Singh in 1995.
The Rajya Sabha had been informed on Wednesday that the mercy petitions of nine prisoners facing death penalty, including Rajoana, were pending with the government.
The hanging of 26/11 terrorist Mohammed Ajmal Kasab and Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru has reignited clamour for the early execution of certain convicts, including the assassins of Beant Singh and former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.
Meanwhile, though the farmers’ protest was over on Wednesday, the police remained present in heavy numbers in the city on Thursday. Patiala senior superintendent of police (SSP) Gurpreet Singh Gill claimed that the police deployment had nothing to do with the Rajoana rumours. “Cops have been stationed here for four days (March 5 to 8) in view of the farmers’ Rail Roko agitation,” he said.
Due to security concerns, the central jail authorities have now decided to use video conferencing to produce Rajoana before the court, jail officials said.
Rajoana has already said that he won’t file a mercy appeal. The Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), which had conferred the title of ‘zinda shaheed’ (living martyr) on him, had filed a mercy petition on his behalf last year.
A Chandigarh court had issued Rajoana’s execution warrants for March 31 last year. However, before the date of execution, SGPC members and Akali leaders moved a constitutional review petition under Article 72 of the Constitution, urging clemency for Rajoana. As a procedural effect of the petition moved before the President, his hanging was postponed indefinitely.