A day after recording statements of witnesses of the October 14 Behbal Kalan incident of firing in which two people were killed, former chairman of the Press Council of India justice (retd) Markandey Katju has prime facie found police excesses in the entire episode.
Katju is investigating the incident of firing on the invitation of the Sikhs for Human Rights, the Punjab Human Rights Organisation and the Lawyers for Human Rights International. The independent commission is expected to make its findings public in two weeks.
Shocked over the deposition of at least 45 witnesses, Katju said many of the people mentioned even names of the particular police officials, who allegedly committed atrocities on the crowd.
“We don’t know about the final findings of the investigation but, going through statements of the witnesses, it has primarily come to the fore that the police were completely at fault. It was not necessary for the police to resort to lathicharge and firing,” said Katju, who was accompanied by Shashi Kant, former director general (jails), Punjab.
He added, “The incident reminded of the Jallianwala Bagh incident. The only difference is that, in this incident, atrocities were committed by the state police,” Katju said.
Katju alleged that the Punjab police had adopted British colonial methods to deal with the Sikh protesters here.
“We are living in a democracy and people have been given the right to assemble peacefully without arms. Many of the witnesses said no warning was given before the police resorted to firing and lathicharge,” Katju said, adding that the police are accountable to law not to their political bosses.
The commission has twice sent notices to Punjab chief secretary, principal secretary (home) and director general of police asking them to tell their side of story, but the commission has not got any response so far.
“We want to be fair and don’t want to criticise and hold any police officials responsible without any authenticity. We are not going to blindly accept the depositions made by the witnesses before the commission as the prime aim is to put the facts straight,” Katju said.
He added that the state government and the police department would be given every chance to record their statements since the investigation was not yet closed.
Harpal Singh Cheema, chairman of the Sikhs for Human Rights, said Katju’s report would be submitted to the People’s Union on Civil Liberties, which might file a public-interest petition on its basis.
The commission might also recommend to the state government to give adequate compensation to the families of those killed and injured in the incident.
Katju meets suicide
On his way back to Chandigarh, former justice Markandey Katju and others met nine families of labourers and families, who committed suicide during the past few years. He even wrote to Bathinda deputy commissioner to give compensation to help out these families.