An illegal meeting of supporters with liquor baron Shiv Lal Doda, behind bars in a murder case, in the Fazilka sub-jail on Wednesday led to the assistant jail superintendent being suspended and booked along with 24 others, including leaders of the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD). The group was were there purportedly to discuss Doda’s plans for the February 4 Punjab assembly elections. On Thursday, Shiv Lal and his nephew Amit Doda were transferred to the Amritsar jail.
The tip-off about the “durbar” was given by Sunil Jakhar, the Congress’ Abohar MLA, behind whom Doda had finished second in the 2012 polls as an independent candidate. On instructions from the state’s chief electoral officer, VK Singh, a raid was conducted by a team of civil administration and police just after 7pm.
The team found various violations, including seven private vehicles and 24 persons inside “without even an entry in the visitor [register], even though visitor entry is allowed [only] between 9am and 2pm”, said a complaint from the office of the deputy commissioner (DC) to the senior superintendent of police (SSP) that is mentioned in the FIR. A sum of Rs 3.48 lakh was also recovered from the jail.
These outsiders included Ashok Ahuja, SAD circle president and a member of the Abohar municipal council, who has been running Doda’s public welfare work in his absence. Several Akali workers from Abohar completed the group.
MEETING IN OFFICE
The DC’s complaint held the deputy superintendent (charge held by assistant jail superintendent Jashandeep Singh) responsible for negligence of duty, “allowing outsiders beyond visiting hours and allowing them to meet inmates in his official premises”.
“He said mere five persons were present but, during physical check on entire jail, it was found that 24 outsiders were sitting in the office premises of [deputy superintendent] with mobile phones,” the letter further detailed. “Doda’s close aide Ashok Ahuja and 23 others were having a discussion inside the jail. The seven private vehicles were impounded,” a senior official told HT on condition of anonymity.
The raiding team, including DC Isha Kalia and SSP Narinder Bhargav, remained inside the jail till midnight. “We have booked all accused, including Jashandeep Singh, assistant jail superintendent, under sections of the Indian penal Code and the Prisons Act,” the SSP later said. The DC added, “We have recommended stern action against Jashandeep Singh.” However, the accused later got bail, officials said.
Known better by his nickname ‘Sholly’, Doda is among 25 people booked for the brutal murder of 27-year-old Dalit man, Bhim Sain Tank, at his farmhouse in Abohar more than a year ago.
Doda, who owed allegiance to the SAD and was also considered close to some leaders of SAD ally Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), had lost the last election to Jakhar by around 9,000 votes. This time, speculation is rife that one of his family members, if not he, would contest the election again from Abohar.
“It’s an open secret that Doda enjoyed full patronage of Akali rule even inside jail,” said Jakhar. “He got luxury facilities, including a special kitchen, and managed his liquor business from the jail.”