A district court on Friday held three former personnel of the Punjab Police guilty of abducting and eliminating Shaheed Bhagat Singh's kin Kuljit Singh Dhatt 25 years ago and sentenced them to five-year imprisonment each. A fine of Rs. 1 lakh each was also slapped on them.
A former sarpanch of Ambala Jattan village and the director of the Bhogpur sugar mill, Dhatt (35) was picked up by the Hoshiarpur police in July 1989. His whereabouts were not known after that.
The court of additional sessions judge Poonam R Joshi declared retired deputy inspector general SPS Basra, and dismissed cops Jaspal Singh and Sita Ram guilty of criminal conspiracy, abduction with an intent to kill, and illegal confinement. Jaspal is already undergoing life sentence in the fake encounter case of human rights activist Jaswant Singh Khalra.
As per the complaint, Dhatt was picked up by cops from Garhi village in the morning on July 23, 1989, in connection with the murder of Roopowal village sarpanch; subsequently, he was eliminated in a fake encounter. The police, however, had maintained that he was taken into custody on the intervening night of July 25 and 26, and he escaped that night when he was being taken for the recovery of weapons.
Bhagat Singh's Canada-based sister Parkash Kaur, who is the mother-in-law of Dhatt's brother Harbhajan Singh, and Dhatt's widow Gurmit Kaur had filed a writ in the Supreme Court against then Hoshiarpur superintendent of police (SP, operations) SPS Basra, then Dasuya deputy superintendent of police (DSP) Ajit Singh Sandhu, then Tanda station house officer (SHO) Sardul Singh, then Dasuya SHO Jaspal Singh and Garhdiwala chowki in-charge Sita Ram, accusing them of killing Dhatt in a fake encounter. In view of the death of Sandhu and Sardul, the trial was held against the three surviving cops.
The FIR was registered under sections 364 (abduction with motive of murder), 218 (public servant framing incorrect record or writing with intent to save person from punishment), 120-B (criminal conspiracy), 201 (causing disappearance of evidence of offence) and 466 (forgery of record of court or of public register) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), but the court held them guilty under the first three sections only and acquitted them in the rest.
The Supreme Court had got the charges investigated by a judicial commission headed by retired sessions judge HL Randev. The commission, in its report submitted to the SC in October 1993, had held the police story about Dhatt's escape as fabricated, but despite the adverse report, no action was initiated. Finally, in 1996, an FIR was lodged at Tanda police station.
Miscarriage of justice, say victim's kin
Dissatisfied with the verdict, Kuljit Singh Dhatt's kin staged a protest outside the court and raised slogans. "We suffered agony for 25 years and the men who inflicted pain on us have got punishment just for five years. It is sheer miscarriage of justice," said Dhatt's brother Harbhajan Singh. Harbhajan said they would challenge the sentence in the higher court.
Dhatt's widow Gurmit Kaur and brother Harbhajan Singh, who fought the legal battle all these years, were distraught. Dhatt's son Gurbir Singh (26), who was just one-year-old when his father went missing, had come from Canada to hear the verdict. "The guilty cops deserved punishment in proportion to the severity of their crime, but it was not done. I am hugely upset," said Gurbir.