Pronouncing its verdict in two 1992 fake encounter cases, the special Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) court on Tuesday awarded life sentence to eight retired policemen, including a former superintendent of police (SP).
Personnel of the Nakodar police in Jalandhar district had killed constable Baljit Singh in a fake encounter on September 1, 1992 and shot dead constables Rajwinder Singh and Mukhtiar Singh on September 6 that year. Baljit's body was found, but not those of the other two.
While eight retired police officials were convicted and sentenced, 17 others were acquitted by the court due to lack of evidence. Those convicted in the Baljit Singh case are retired SP Ram Singh, Ajit Singh, Ajaib Singh, Amrit Singh and serving inspector Harbhajan Singh.
In the other case, retired cops Sukhwant Singh, Nand Singh and Rajinder Singh were awarded life sentence. Constables Rajwinder and Mukhtiar had been shown as having "fled with handcuffs", but a probe by the district and sessions judge raised the suspicion that might have been killed by police.
Ram Singh was then station house officer (SHO) of Lambra police station. As many as 24 police officials took part in the fake encounter at Chitti Mod near Lambra, Nakodar.
The trio of constables was named as sympathisers by terrorist Vijaypal Singh during his interrogation by the Delhi police. Subsequently, they were taken into custody by the Punjab police. One (Baljit) of them was shown as killed in an encounter and the other two as 'missing'. Police also showed recovery of arms and ammunition from Baljit.
After a hue and cry raised by families of the deceased constable and the missing ones, the Punjab and Haryana high court directed the district and sessions judge to conduct the probe, which found that the Baljit Singh encounter was fake, while the other case was suspected to be similar. Acting on the judge's report, the high court ordered the CBI to probe both cases.
The CBI registered a case in February 1997 under sections 302 (murder), 364 (kidnapping), 218 (public servant framing incorrect record) and 120B (criminal conspiracy) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) against all 25 accused. After registering the FIR, the CBI investigated the cases and found police officials guilty of involvement in two fake encounters.
During the initial stage of the trial, the officials were declared proclaimed offenders (POs) after they defied the CBI court's orders for 11 years and did not attend court proceedings in the matter. The high court's directions asking them to surrender were also not complied with. However, they later surrendered in the court after the media highlighted that POs were working in the police force.
Rajwinder was undergoing training at Ladha Kothi training centre in Sangrur district, while Mukhtiar and Baljit Singh were posted with the Jalandhar police. Police claimed that Rajwinder and Mukhwinder were arrested on September 4, 1992, in connection with an attempt-to-murder case dated October 31, 1991, but they escaped during an encounter with militants while they were being taken for recovery of weapons.
"The CBI, in its challan, said Rajwinder and Mukhtiar had not escaped from police custody, and in all probability, their lives had been snuffed out by the police. Baljit Singh, too, had not died in a genuine encounter," said HPS Verma, counsel for the victims' families. He said the policemen were convicted on the charges of murder, kidnapping, public servant framing incorrect record, and conspiracy.
The two cases
According to the CBI probe, personnel of the Nakodar police in Jalandhar district killed constable Baljit Singh in a fake encounter on September 1, 1992 and shot dead constables Rajwinder Singh and Mukhtiar Singh on September 6 that year in a staged gunbattle. Baljit's body was found, but not those of the other two.
The three constables had been named as sympathisers by terrorist Vijaypal Singh during his interrogation; they were arrested and put to death
Police had claimed that Rajwinder and Mukhtiar escaped from custody, but the CBI said in its challan that "in all probability, their lives had been snuffed out by police".