Ex-CM Beant Singh assassin Balwant Rajoana’s death sentence commuted to life
The death sentence of dreaded Babbar Khalsa terrorist, Balwant Singh Rajoana-- convicted for the assassination of former Punjab Chief Minister Beant Singh -- has been commuted to life.
Beant Singh, often credited with ending terrorism in Punjab, was assassinated on August 31, 1995. A human bomb triggered the explosives as the chief minister was getting into his official vehicle at about 5.30 pm at the Punjab and Haryana Civil Secretariat in Chandigarh. Rajoana, subsequent investigations revealed, was to be the second human bomb in case the first human bomb failed.
Earlier in October 2010, the death sentence of Jagtar Singh Hawara -- the other convict in the assassination – was reduced to life imprisonment by the Punjab and Haryana High Court. The same court had, however, upheld Rajoana’s death sentence. Importantly, Rajoana had never filed a mercy plea. Others, for instance, the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) had, however, moved a mercy plea on his behalf.
The Union Home Minister refused to comment on the commutation of the death sentence. A “decision has been taken for the premature release of prisoners, through special remission” in eight other cases,” a senior MHA official who did not want to be named said and added, “these individuals were convicted by various courts in the country for offences committed by them during the militancy in Punjab.” The MHA, however, hasn’t yet released the name of the eight prisoners who are being released.
Earlier, the Congress government led by Captain Amarinder Singh had recommended the release of Hardeep Singh and Baj Singh who are currently in Amritsar Jail; Waryam Singh who is being held in a jail in UP, Subegh Singh currently in Ludhiana jail; Nand Singh lodged in Patiala central jail; Lal Singh, Dilbagh Singh, Saran Singh who are lodged in Nabha Jail and Gurdeep Singh Kherav currently in a jail in Karnataka.
The MHA official said that release of the eight prisoners was a “humanitarian gesture” on the occasion of 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak – the founder of the Sikh faith. All eight were convicted under the now repealed Terrorists and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act.
The MHA’s decision to commutate Rajoana’s sentence will require concurrence from the President of India. The process has been set in motion according to senior government officials who are aware of the details but did not want to be named.
Importantly, the decision to commute Rajoana’s death sentence comes just two days after the BJP and Akali Dal, its long standing political ally, failed to come together for the forthcoming elections in Haryana. Sikhs make-up for as much as 8 per cent of the population in Haryana.
Rajoana was scheduled to be hanged on March 31, 2012. The decision was stayed following a mercy petition moved on behalf of Rajoana by the SGPC and another clemency plea moved by Prakash Singh Badal in March 2012 during his tenure as Chief Minister.