The district and sessions court on Monday acquitted all the three accused in the murder of former Nihang leader Ajit Singh Phoola. The trio — Navtej Singh and Harpreet Singh, both of Batala, and Harchand Singh of Mari Kamboke in Tarn Taran district — were acquitted by district and sessions judge Gurbir Singh for “lack of evidence” of their involvement in the case.
Navtej and Harchand have been charged with murder under section 302 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), while Harpreet was charged with conspiracy under section 120-B of the IPC.
While some of the witnesses the prosecution presented in the court turned hostile, others claimed that they were not present on the scene of the crime and only saw the victim being taken to a hospital.
A couple of jail inmates were also among the witnesses, as the incident took place on the Amritsar central jail premises.
On August 28, 2008, diesel was thrown on Phoola when he was in his cell and was subsequently set on fire.
He was rushed to Guru Nanak Dev Hospital, from where he was referred to Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER), Chandigarh, due to the seriousness of his burn injuries. However, he succumbed to his burn injuries while on way to Chandigarh.
On the basis of statements of jail inmates and staff, the Amritsar police registered a murder case against Navtej and Harchand. The duo was then under detention in various cases. During investigation, Harpreet’s name was added to the case and charged with conspiracy.
Phoola, who then claimed to head a faction of the Taruna Dal, a Nihang outfit, too was under detention at the central jail in connection with killing of seven members of a family near Mehta Chowk during the militancy. He along with some of his associates were being tried for this case.
Phoola was arrested by the Nawanshahar police in another case and was then shifted to Amritsar for standing trail for the murder.
In the court, defence counsel Amarpal Singh Randhawa pointed out that the accused had no enmity with Phoola, therefore there was no reason for them taking his life. He also pointed to fact that sufficient evidence was not presented before the court that pointed to the involvement of his clients.
The prosecution, however, argued that Phoola had a number of times told the jail authorities that there was a threat to his life and he might be attacked by some of the jail inmates.
However, despite being acquitted in the case, Navtej and Harchand have not been released from the prison. While Harchand is being tried in another murder case, Navtej has an attempt to murder case pending against him. Harpreet, who was on bail in the Phoola case, is a free man now.