M A I N   N E W S

Two minutes that shook Punjab
Saurabh Malik
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, September 2
CCTV cameras in the courtroom seem to hold the key now to a mysterious man and an even more mysterious caller and the conversation that shook Punjab for a day.

It all happened during the hearing on Thursday of petitions challenging the notification, issued by the NDA government in 2003, which debarred ‘Sehajdhari Sikhs’ from exercising their franchise in the SGPC election.

Senior advocate Harbhagwan Singh, the man in the eye of the storm, claimed on Friday that a stranger approached him in the court around 3 pm to whisper that there was an urgent message for him from the Union Law Ministry. The unsuspecting counsel, who claimed to have been engaged by the Centre only the day before the hearing, stepped out of the court to speak over the stranger’s mobile.

The caller, he recalls, identified himself as an officer in the Union Law Ministry and told the counsel that the government did not want to drag the matter for ever. Asserting that the 2003 notification was being withdrawn, the caller asked if it should be withdrawn with retrospective effect. “ I replied that since the poll notification has already been issued, the withdrawal should be ‘prospective’ and take effect from the date of the fresh notification. The Sehajdari Sikhs could then vote in the next election.”

He did not suspect anything, says Singh, because he was telephonically informed about his appointment a day earlier and the letter was faxed to him.

On the basis of the “verbal instructions” he informed the Bench that the 2003 notification, issued apparently without any application of the mind, had been withdrawn.

Only the CCTV cameras can now throw some light on the identity of the man even as the Senior Advocate does not rule out the possibility of mischief or a hoax call.

There is scepticism in legal circles over the explanation. Normally, in such an eventuality an adjournment is sought, confided senior lawyers on Friday. In a sensitive case like this, they felt, Harbhagwan Singh erred in trusting a stranger, accepting oral instructions at face value and not caring to consult other central government counsel, who were present in the court at the time.





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