SC order fine print may dash hardliners' hopes

The fine print of the fresh Supreme Court ruling on premature release of prisoners is likely to dash hopes of Sikh hardliners who are pressing for the release of 65 jailed militants.
Hindustan Times | By Pawan Sharma, Chandigarh
UPDATED ON JUL 25, 2015 09:17 AM IST

The fine print of the fresh Supreme Court ruling on premature release of prisoners is likely to dash hopes of Sikh hardliners who are pressing for the release of 65 jailed militants.Not more than two cases (of Sikh prisoners) may fall within th e ambit of the apex court ruling. The development is likely to aggravate the standoff between the Punjab government and the radicals.

On Friday morning, chief minister Parkash Singh Badal held a meeting with advocate general (AG) Ashok Aggarwal to understand the impact of Thursday's order of the five-member SC constitution bench headed by Chief Justice of India HL Dattu. Initial understanding of the state government is that two Sikh prisoners---Hardeep Singh and Baz Singh---booked under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA) and Arms Act may fall within the "consideration zone", the chief minister told Hindustan Times.

"However, nothing can be said with certainty until the Supreme Court order is fully studied. The fact is state governments can't do much in such cases," Badal said. In a subtle but stern message to the hardliners, he reiterated that "communal harmony and peace" remains government's top priority. "The law and order will be maintained…No one will be allowed to break the law and indulge in activities that may disrupt peace," Badal said.

The Badal government is on the edge after the health of fasting hardliner Surat Singh Khalsa began deteriorating. The activist, who has been shifted to hospital by police, has been on an indefinite fast since January 16 demanding the release of jailed Sikh prisoners.

The government was hoping to break the impasse and persuade the radical organisations rallying behind Khalsa to end "fast" after the apex court order. The government now is keeping its fingers crossed, while the hardliners are sticking to their contentious stand.

The Sangharsh Committee that is backing the fast by Khalsa had given the Punjab government a list of 65 Sikh prisoners on July 21. A closer scrutiny of these cases by the government has revealed that 26 are undertrials who are entitled for bail only as per the merit of their cases. As many as 15 are convicts with defined sentences --- less than life imprisonment.

One Sikh militant whose release is also being sought by the hardliners is on death sentence in Punjab ex-CM Beant Singh assassination case. There are "insufficient details" to establish the identity of three inmates.

The Sangharsh Committee list also comprises 20 other "life convicts" of which 15 were held guilty of crimes committed in other states---eight in Union Territory (UT), four in Rajasthan and one each to Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat. Any decision about the Sikh prisoners lodged outside Punjab for the crimes committed there will be taken by the states concerned.

There are five "life convicts" in Punjab and three of them --- Dilbag Singh, Swarn Singh, Balveer Singh Bhutna -"do not fall in the consideration zone" as they have not completed the minimum prescribed time in jail, the chief minister said.

Stating that the law of the land will prevail, Badal indicated that to tackle the ongoing crisis-like situation every necessary steps was being taken.

In an attempt to clear the air, the chief minister said whether concessions can be made will depend after the AG analyses the Supreme Court order. "Within the framework of the law, we are ready to do something…but not beyond the law of the land…law is one for all…," Badal said, making an "appeal to all sections" not to disrupt the "hard earned peace".

"You know everything," is how in his inimitable style Badal ducked the repeated queries that why the hardliners were not accepting the stand of the government and that who could be inciting the radicals.

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