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Operation Bluestar Jodhpur ‘detainees’: 34 yrs on, Rs 4.5 cr compensation for 40 Sikhs, Punjab agrees to pay half but Centre files challenge

Centre’s stance queers pitch for Akalis; Sukhbir writes to Rajnath, to lead delegation to meet him on June 21

punjab Updated: Jun 19, 2018 11:38 IST
Sukhdeep Kaur
Sukhdeep Kaur
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
Operation Bluestar,Punjab 1984,Amritsar
Devotees look at the damage inflicted on the Golden Temple in Amritsar after the Operation Bluestar in 1984.(HT File)

This June, it has been a 34-year-long fight for justice for those imprisoned in Jodhpur after their arrest from the Golden Temple complex during Operation Bluestar. The case was handed over to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) which registered FIRs under various sections of Explosive Act and Arms Act against them on June 14, 1984.

But all the 375 arrested were later released in three lots between March 1989 and July 1991. Of them, 224 appealed for compensation alleging “wrongful detention and torture”. But the CBI contested the case and won it in the lower court in 2011. Some died, others did not pursue it any further. But 40 of the detainees went in appeal against the order to the Amritsar sessions court and were awarded Rs 4 lakh each as compensation with 6% interest (from date of filing of the appeal to payment of compensation) in April last year. The total compensation, including interest, adds up to a relatively paltry Rs 4.5 crore for the governments. The court had held the state and Centre “jointly and severally liable”, allowing the claimant to pursue payment from any one party, leaving it to the two defendants to decide proportion of their liability.

While the Punjab government has agreed to foot half the amount, the Centre has this month moved the Punjab and Haryana high court against the order. The CBI, in the petition, has questioned the jurisdiction of Amritsar court to hear the matter. It says the Golden Temple was “not attacked” and that “the army stepped in on the request of civil administration, and the litigants had joined terrorists” during the operation. Punjab advocate general Atul Nanda, in his legal opinion of January 16, said, “By paying Rs 1 lakh as compensation earlier to plaintiff, State of Punjab has admitted that they are entitled to compensation and the state should not appeal against the order.” Chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh declared this during his recent visit to Golden Temple in Amritsar.

“The total compensation amount adds up to just Rs 4.5 crore, which too was awarded after decades of denial and delay in justice,” says Bhagwant Singh Sialka, lawyer of the petitioners, adding, “Punjab government has given an undertaking in the court to pay half the amount. But the Centre moved the HC after a delay of over a year. Its appeal will further delay the compensation. So, we have requested Punjab jail minister Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa to urge the CM to pay the entire amount.” Minister Randhawa, when contacted, said it is the justice department that has to allow the relief: “The CM heads the justice department and I will speak to him about it.”

The Centre’s petition has also queered the pitch for the Shiromani Akali Dal, an ally in the Centre’s BJP-led regime. Two-time former SAD MLA Virsa Singh Valtoha, who was among the 375 detainees, says SAD president Sukhbir Singh Badal has on Monday written to Union home minister Rajnath Singh, urging him to withdraw the CBI’s appeal. Sukhbir will lead a delegation to meet him on June 21, adds Valtoha, who was released from the Jodhpur jail in July 1991 as he was slapped with additional charges of dacoity and murder.

Valtoha blames the Congress regime for Centre’s belated move: “Amritsar court order came last year. Had Punjab paid relief immediately, Centre would have felt morally bound to do so. I was among the detainees who had filed the first appeal. But, I did not pursue it after it was dismissed as the expense was too high.”

Congress’ Patti MLA Harminder Singh Gill, too, was among the detainees and had requested the CM to raise the matter with Prime Minister Narendra Modi after the Niti Aayog meeting on Sunday. He said, “Captain (regime) paid Rs 1 lakh as compensation in his previous tenure after former chief minister Parkash Singh Badal failed to keep his promise. We will all meet the CM again and request him to pay the entire amount.”

The Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) has also asked the Centre to revoke the appeal. “This move will further enhance the sense of alienation in the Sikh community. The Centre needs to win hearts of the community by doing justice,” SGPC chief Gobind Singh Longowal had said in a recent press statement.

Meanwhile, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) MLA and leader of opposition Sukhpal Singh KKhaira on Monday asked why the central government was opposing “a meagre relief of Rs 4 lakh each”. “This is a joke the BJP has played with Sikhs victimised 34 years ago for no fault of theirs. We are aware many devotees were killed during Operation Bluestar in 1984 and many innocent people were detained for over five years at the Jodhpur jail. Their illegal detention and torture at Jodhpur was upheld by the Tiwana Commission report of May 1986,” he added. “Unfortunately instead of implementing the court order, the central government has challenged it,” he further said, asking SAD chief Sukhbir to clarify why the BJP-led government is opposing the relief.

First Published: Jun 19, 2018 11:10 IST