After 19 years, case reaches the doors of Punjab and Haryana High Court

Thanks to the efforts of an NGO and a human rights organisation, a family from Punjab is seeing a ray of hope, after running from pillar to post for 19 years, with its case reaching the doors of the Punjab and Haryana High Court.

The family from Kala Afghana village in Gurdaspur district lost its member Sukhpal Singh, who was allegedly killed in a fake encounter in place of a “dreaded” terrorist.

Following efforts by an NGO, Apna Punjab, which is chaired by Col. (retd.) G.S. Sandhu, and the Punjab Human Rights Organisation (PHRO) led by Justice (retd.) Ajit Singh Bains, the High Court took cognisance of a writ petition filed by Sukhpal’s father Jathedar Jagir Singh and wife Dalbir Kaur.

The case is scheduled to come up for hearing on July 23.

Narrating the sequence of events, Col. Sandhu and Jathedar Jagir Singh said Sukhpal, who managed the family’s 4.5-acre farm, was picked up from their village by three men in civil clothes, who came in a white Maruti van in April 1994. The family was told that he was required for questioning by the Majitha police. When he did not return after a couple of days, his mother Gurbachan Kaur started inquiring, but she did not get any satisfactory answer.

Jathedar Jagir Singh said that while his wife was kept in illegal custody at the Civil Lines police station of Batala police district for being persistent in her efforts to trace their son, people informed them that on August 13, 1994, their son was killed and the police had painted him as “dreaded terrorist” Gurnam Singh Bundala alias Neela Tara. The encounter was shown to have happened in Ropar district in which the police team was led by DSP Paramraj Singh Umranangal, who is currently posted as DIG. The controversial police officer, Ajit Singh Sandhu, who later committed suicide, was the head of the Ropar district police.

Though the family was not sure of the fact, Col. Sandhu quoted media reports stating that Neela Tara carried a reward of Rs. 25 lakh on his head. He said the police party, which had purportedly shot him dead, was decorated with gallantry awards as well. Intriguingly, Neela Tara was arrested by the Batala police in 1998 from his ancestral Man Khera village, where he was living under an assumed name of Surjit Singh. Heartbroken Gurbachan Kaur died and the family had to sell nearly four acres of land to meet the expenses, including fees of a well-known human rights lawyer, who did not even file a case.

Ms. Dalbir Kaur, who was two months pregnant when Sukhpal was picked up, says her mother-in-law had refused to accept a Rs. 5 lakh “compensation” offered by some police officers who wanted the family to forget the matter. Subsequently, after his acquittal or having been bailed out in various cases, Neela Tara visited the Jathedar’s family to condole the death of Sukhpal. Ms. Dalbir Kaur said Neela Tara had told her that her husband was killed in his place.

Col. Sandhu said the former Punjab police chief, S.S. Virk, admitted that the police had furnished false information about the elimination of at least 300 terrorists. He said his organisation had been seeking from the government details about those killed in place of terrorists and the names of police officers who shared the bounty. Col. Sandhu also shared details about a shoddy inquiry ordered in May 2007 by the then State police chief, N.P.S. Aulakh. Additional Director-General J.P. Birdi, who was entrusted with the probe into such cases, retired in 2010.

The status of the probe remained unanswered as Birdi died subsequently. Various efforts by Col. Sandhu and other organisations to get the details in vain as the authorities remained non-committal.