Sacrilege cases: Plea challenging HC direction to CBI to hand over case to Punjab Police dismissed by SC
The previous SAD-BJP government in Punjab had handed over the three sacrilege cases to the CBI for probe
The Supreme Court on Tuesday dismissed the challenge to the Punjab and Haryana High Court's direction to the CBI to hand over all case diaries and papers related to the 2015 sacrilege incidents, including alleged desecration of Guru Granth Sahib, to the Punjab Police within a month, Live Law has reported.
On January 4, during a hearing on the plea of one of the accused in the sacrilege incidents, Sukhjinder Singh alias Sunny, the Punjab and Haryana High Court directed the CBI to hand over all case diaries and papers related to the 2015 sacrilege incidents, including alleged desecration of Guru Granth Sahib, to the Punjab Police within a month.
The Punjab government had handed over the probe into the alleged desecration of Guru Granth Sahib and other religious texts of the Sikh faith in 2015 to a Special Investigation Team (SIT) of the state police in September 2018 after the state Assembly passed a resolution withdrawing consent to the CBI to investigate these cases, noting lack of progress in the investigation.
Further, in January, 2019 and November, 2020, the High Court had held the withdrawal of consent to be justified, upholding the 2018 notifications to that effect.
Appearing before a bench headed by Justice Rohinton Nariman on caveat, Senior Advocate P. Chidambaram, appearing for the state of Punjab, said, "The court perused the case diaries of the CBI and found that the investigation had hardly made any headway. For three years, the CBI did nothing. The government of India took the stand that it was the withdrawal of the case (from the CBI) that has seriously affected the investigation and hence, they were unable to file the report. We had withdrawn the consent on 6.9.2018. After three years, the CBI investigation in the sacrilege case had made no headway at all. Sacrilege is a very explosive, inflammatory issue in Punjab. Even after the withdrawal, the CBI filed a closure report on 4.7.2019. After three years and six months of investigation, they filed a closure report!"
"In the meanwhile, we withdrew our consent and gave the matter to the SIT to investigate. The CBI came in an appeal to Your Lordships which was rejected. They filed a review on 5.3.2020 but no effort has been made to have it listed for one year. The CBI abandoned the matter and returned the records to the government on 3.2.2021. This is a very, very serious case in Punjab. The investigation should be completed. There are 3 FIRs in the sacrilege case and 4 FIRs in the police firing and rioting case. The CBI is not interested in pursuing the review application", he added.
Senior Advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for the petitioner-accused, argued, "Can the CBI be upstaged by an order of revocation passed in 2018 after the consent was given in 2015? The notification was issued because the Assembly said that the consent is to be revoked. How can the Assembly intervene and direct revocation? This has nothing to do with the Assembly! The order says that whatever the CBI has done so far has to be handed over to the police. This is unheard of in law. This is a matter of liberty-Article 21 and the procedure established by the law".
Finally, the bench, also comprising Justice B. R. Gavai, dismissed the petitions.
Sukhjinder had challenged the investigation being undertaken by the SIT of the Punjab Police on the ground that the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is already seized of the probe, according to a Punjab government statement issued on Monday.
The high court rejected Sukhjinder's plea and asked the CBI to hand over all relevant documents and material in the sacrilege cases to the Punjab Police, it said.
It further directed the Punjab Police to consider the material handed over by the CBI and file a supplementary challan in the case, for consideration by the trial court.
Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh had termed the high court's directions as an endorsement of the state government's stand on the investigations into the 2015 sacrilege incidents. In a statement, he said it was high time the CBI listened to the courts and handed the case files back to the state so that the perpetrators of the crimes could be brought to justice.
He said his government has been fighting the CBI's alleged high-handedness for more than two years but the agency has failed to heed the various directions and orders of the courts in this time.
The previous SAD-BJP government had handed over three sacrilege cases — theft of a 'bir' (copy) of Guru Granth Sahib from a Burj Jawahar Singh Wala gurdwara on June 1, 2015, putting up of hand-written sacrilegious posters in Bargari and Burj Jawahar Singh Wala on September 25 and torn pages of the holy book being found at Bargari on October 12, 2015 in Faridkot — to the CBI for probe.
Reiterating his government's resolve to bring the cases to their "logical conclusion", the Punjab chief minister said the central agency should respect the verdict of the judiciary and stop overreaching the courts at the behest of its political masters.
The Punjab government's decision to hand over the probe into the desecration of religious texts incidents to the SIT was upheld by the high court on January 25, 2019, after the CBI challenged it.
In July 2019, the CBI filed its closure report in the CBI court at Mohali, but took a U-turn later praying before the court to keep the report in abeyance and said the investigation was still continuing.
The CBI's appeal challenging the 2019 judgment of the Punjab and Haryana High Court was dismissed by the Supreme Court in February 2020.
Even after the dismissal of the appeal, the CBI did not hand over diaries and papers relating to the sacrilege cases to the Punjab police, as per a government statement.
The Punjab Police SIT had filed a charge-sheet before a trial court in Faridkot in July 2020, which was challenged by Sukhjinder.
Two persons, who were part of the anti-sacrilege protesters, were killed in the police firing at Behbal Kalan in 2015.