SC grants anticipatory bail to Punjab’s ex-DGP in 29-year-old custodial death case
The Supreme Court on Thursday granted protection from arrest to Punjab’s former Director General of Police (DGP) Sumedh Singh Saini in a case of murder lodged against him in August 2020 for an alleged custodial death 29 years ago.
Saini who retired in 2018, had approached the top court seeking protection after the trial court in Chandigarh and the Punjab and Haryana High Court on September 8 refused to accept his plea of political witch hunt by the present Punjab government and declined him anticipatory bail.
Reversing the order passed by the HC and the trial court, a three-judge bench headed by Justice Ashok Bhushan said that a fit case for pre-arrest bail was made out looking to the status of the petitioner who retired as Punjab’s DGP after 30 years of service and the long delay of 29 years for the State to lodge fresh charge of murder against Saini.
The bench, also comprising Justices RS Reddy and MR Shah directed that in the event Saini was arrested in connection with this case, he shall be released on bail on furnishing personal bond of ₹one lakh and two sureties. He will have to surrender his passport and cooperate with the investigation, the bench added.
The incident took place in 1991 when one Balwant Singh Multani, a junior engineer with Chandigarh Industrial and Tourism Corporation was arrested by a team of Punjab Police in connection with a car bomb blast on August 29, 1991 that killed three policemen while causing injuries to Saini. Police claimed that Multani escaped from police custody soon after his arrest.
The case took a fresh twist in May this year when Multani’s brother filed a complaint alleging murder of Multani by seven police officers including Saini. The case was registered at Mohali’s Mataur police station, initially under charges of kidnapping for murder (IPC Section 364) but in August, the charge of murder (IPC Section 302) was added. Two police officers who were co-accused with Saini turned approvers and narrated the brutal custodial torture inflicted on Multani at the instance of Saini.
The bench noted, “A long delay like 29 years as in the present case can certainly be a valid consideration for grant of anticipatory bail.” Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi who appeared for Saini argued that all of a sudden the brother of the victim had woken up in an incident 29 years old and even co-accused have turned approvers to harass and victimize Saini, who was a decorated officer.
The bench noted this fact and said, “In this FIR….Section 302 IPC has been added on the basis of the statements of the approvers only (Jagir Singh and Kuldip Singh). We are of the opinion that the appellant has made out a case for anticipatory bail.”
Senior advocate Sidharth Luthra who sought custodial interrogation of Saini defended the state by saying, “Mere delay or political vendetta cannot be a ground to quash the criminal proceedings, more particularly, when the allegations are very serious and the allegations against the police officers are of misuse of power, kidnapping and thereafter killing the innocent person.”