ED raids Punjab MLA Sukhpal Khaira, who opposed centre on farm laws and raised Navreet case

09 March 2021
Sukhpal Singh Khaira speaks to media persons during a press conference in Amritsar in August 2018. In an interview to The Caravan in early February, Khaira had said the farmer’s during the tractor rally was a “murder” that needed a “judicial probe.”
NARINDER NANU / AFP / Getty Images
Sukhpal Singh Khaira speaks to media persons during a press conference in Amritsar in August 2018. In an interview to The Caravan in early February, Khaira had said the farmer’s during the tractor rally was a “murder” that needed a “judicial probe.”
NARINDER NANU / AFP / Getty Images

On the morning of 9 March, the Enforcement Directorate conducted a raid at the residence of Sukhpal Singh Khaira, the founder and president of the Punjab Ekta Party and the member of legislative assembly from the state’s Bholath constituency. Khaira was formerly with the Aam Aadmi Party and has served as the leader of the opposition in the state assembly. The ED simultaneously conducted a raid at 9 locations in as well as two locations in Delhi, according to an official statement by Sanjay Kumar Mishra, the chief of the ED. The senior advocate RS Bains, who was at Khaira’s residence, told us that the ED officials present there were not forthcoming on the reason behind the raids. He termed the raids “targeted.”

In the statement, sent over WhatsApp at around 7 pm, Mishra stated that the raids were connected to Fazilka smuggling racket, a 2015 case when a Border Security Forces constable was arrested for allegedly smuggling drugs across the India-Pakistan border. The statement named nine inviduals who were being raided in connection with the investigation, including Khaira and his son-in-law, Inderveer Singh Johal. It alleged that Khaira was “actively aiding and supporting the gang of international smugglers and enjoying the proceeds of crime.” The statement added, “The searches are underway and have unearthed incriminating documents and digital devices.” A senior ED official in Punjab told us on the condition of anonymity that officers from the Delhi office had gone to Punjab for the raid, and that local ED officials “only provided logistical support.”

In October 2017, a district court in Punjab’s Fazilka convicted nine accused persons in the case. On the same date, the court also issued summons to Khaira and four others to appear before them as additional accused persons. Khaira challenged the summoning order in the Punjab and Haryana High Court, arguing that the summons could not be issued after the judgment was pronounced. The high court dismissed his challenge, but in the appeal before the Supreme Court, the issue was referred to a larger bench in May 2019. The matter has since been pending, awaiting to be listed before a constitution bench.

Khaira is a vocal critic of the controversial farm laws enacted by the Bharatiya Janata Party, and has repeatedly supported the massive ongoing protests calling for their repeal. Khaira was also among the few politicians who spoke out about the death of Navreet Singh, a farmer who died during a tractor rally against the farm laws on 26 January. Eyewitnesses at the scene said the Delhi Police shot Navreet—an accusation supported by his family. Forensic experts who studied his post-mortem report confirmed that his injuries were consistent with gunshot wounds to the head. But the Delhi Police maintain that Navreet died by accident, by crashing into a police barricade while driving his tractor at a high speed.

On 1 February, Khaira wrote to the Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, asking for a judicial probe into Navreet’s death. That day, Khaira told The Caravan that Navreet’s death was a “murder” that needs an “investigation and a judicial probe.” He added, “There is every possibility that he may have been shot first and then his tractor banged into the barricades and overturned.” (An edited version of Khaira’s interview to The Caravan has been reproduced at the end of this report.)

Jatinder Kaur Tur is a senior journalist with two decades of experience with various national English-language dailies, including the Indian Express, the Times of India, the Hindustan Times and Deccan Chronicle.

Arshu John is an assistant web editor at The Caravan. He was previously an advocate practicing criminal law in Delhi.

Keywords: Enforcement Directorate Farmers' Protest Punjab Navreet Singh Republic Day Tractor Rally Bharatiya Janata Party
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