On 21 August, Sumedh Singh Saini, a retired director general of police of Punjab, was charged with murder in a 29-year-old incident of an alleged extra-judicial killing. The murder charge was added to a first-information report, which Palwinder Singh Multani filed at the Mattaur police station in Mohali, on 6 May this year. The FIR against Saini dealt with the abduction and disappearance of Palwinder’s brother, Balwant Singh Multani, in December 1991, and named six other police officials, too. A court of the judicial magistrate first class, in Mohali, approved adding Section 302—punishment for murder—of the Indian Penal Code to the FIR at the behest of a special investigation team constituted by the Mohali Police for the case. Notably, the SIT’s request to the court was based on the statements of two of the accused police personnel—Jagir Singh and Kuldeep Singh, a sub inspector and an assistant sub inspector at the time of the crime—who were allowed to turn approvers in the case by a court of the chief judicial magistrate.
Jagir, Kuldeep and another co-accused, Harsahai Sharma, recorded their statements under Section 306 of the Code of Criminal Procedure on 14 August, at the court of the chief judicial magistrate in Mohali. The SIT, via the public prosecutor, had filed an application which asked that the three be pardoned as they were needed as approvers. Their statements provided horrifying details of the torture inflicted upon Balwant in police custody on Saini’s instructions and his death due to the torture. The statements also detailed the subsequent cover up of his death by officials of at least two police stations, who first declared Balwant as an absconder and then a proclaimed offender. As per Jagir, Kuldeep and Sharma, this too was done at Saini’s bidding. According to the SIT’s application, since the alleged crime had taken place inside police premises and was almost three decades old, there was no way to gather evidence apart from the sole eye-witnesses—the police officials present at the time of the alleged crime. On 18 August, Deepika Singh, the chief judicial magistrate, allowed Jagir and Kuldeep to depose as witnesses for the prosecution, but refused Sharma’s plea.
The Caravan has already documented how Saini’s career of 36 years was dotted with allegations of scores of forced disappearances, torture and extra-judicial killings, among other offences. In addition, Saini enjoys the dubious distinction of being singled out by name, for human-rights violations, in a report to the United Nations Human Rights Council in April 2013. My previous reportage traced the entire chronology of Balwant’s disappearance vis-à-vis the police’s narrative, the case fought by his family, and Saini’s attempt to intimidate and torture witnesses. The report had examined how over fifteen years later, the Central Bureau of Investigation was roped into the inquiry of Balwant’s disappearance and filed an FIR against Saini; how the state of Punjab ostensibly came to Saini’s rescue and got the CBI’s investigation quashed on technical grounds; and how the family decided to revive their fight for justice once Saini retired in 2018. It highlighted the systemic cover-up of Balwant’s disappearance, with police complicity at every level.
On 21 August, Rasveen Kaur, the judicial magistrate first class, issued an order which said that Jagir and Kuldeep’s statement “shows that all the accused persons were participant in the inhumane torture and systematic elimination of Balwant Singh Multani in 1991. These approvers are the eye-witness of the torture committed by the accused persons and subsequently events in 1991. Therefore, from the overall perusal of the material on record, this court is of the considered view that Section 302 of IPC is sought to be added in the instant dated May 6, 2020 and needed to be investigated accordingly.”
It should be noted here that on 10 August, the court of the additional district and sessions judge, Rajnish Garg, had ordered that the SIT had to give a three-day notice to Saini before arresting him if Section 302 was added to the FIR. Consequently, Kaur’s order also specified that as per the law, Saini and the other accused “be served with 3 days prior notice before his arrest and are enabled to approach the court.”