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Posted at: Jan 11, 2015, 12:16 AM; last updated: Jan 11, 2015, 12:14 AM (IST)

Sikh prisoners: Ins & outs of jail terms

The issue of freeing Sikh prisoners in jails in Punjab and across the country mostly on terrorism-related charges ignites emotions everytime it crops up. More than that, it gives rise to ambiguity and a game of passing the buck on who takes the call for their premature release
Sikh prisoners: Ins & outs of jail terms
Beant Singh assassination case convict Jagtar Singh Hawara looks out of a vehicle taking him to court. His release is being sought by SAD.

The hunger strike in Haryana by Sikh activist Gurbaksh Singh Khalsa, who has served a jail term himself on terror charges, has again brought to fore the emotive issue of releasing Sikh prisoners, most of whom were arrested during the days of terrorism in Punjab and convicted for terror-related charges, besides intense politicking.
The contention of Khalsa and some Sikh organisations is that these prisoners have served the mandatory time in jail and should be freed to lead normal lives. The Punjab government has taken the stand that none of the seven prisoners whose release Khalsa is seeking are convicts in the state, while the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal has itself released a list of 13 prisoners for the release of whom it wants the Centre’s intervention since the Ministry of Home Affairs is authorised to recommend relief to the President. All seven on Gurbaksh Singh Khalsa’s list form part of the Akali Dal list. Coalition partner Bharatiya Janata Party has reacted sharply to the demand for release, with national party president Amit Shah contending that those connected with terrorism cannot be freed.
That life imprisonment means till the death of the prisoner is clear, but different state governments have their own norms for premature release of prisoners who have completed 14, 18 or 20 years’ sentence with remissions. Without going into the merits of the Akali Dal’s list of 13 — which contains the name of even former chief minister Beant Singh’s assassination “mastermind” Jagtar Singh Hawara — the ambiguity begins on what the Punjab government claims it cannot do though it wishes to for these prisoners.
The Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee has prepared its own list of 120 Sikhs “languishing in various jails of the country despite having completed their prison term”. Of these, it claims, 96 Sikhs are lodged in jails of Punjab, a fact contested by the state government. DGP Sumedh Singh Saini said only two persons on that list had completed their minimum sentence and cited a Supreme Court ruling of July 9, 2014 that no convict could be released prematurely by any state government. On Saturday, the government  moved an application before the apex court for an early decision.
Legal experts say that while the Supreme Court has stayed the remission (or part relief) by state governments in the case of convicts sentenced to life terms, there are still two options available before the Punjab government in case it wants to extend some relief to prisoners. These are pardon or suspension of punishment (by way of parole or furlough).
“All such Sikh prisoners fulfil the eligibility conditions stipulated by the state government for premature release. None of them is seeking remission. Moreover, there is no bar on parole or furlough, which can be extended to any prisoner for up to 42 days with a one-day break. This process can be repeated for an unlimited period. Similarly, the state can still recommend suspension of punishment or straightaway pardon a convict by taking the case to the Governor. In case of prisoners of other states, the state can get the sentence revoked by the President of India via the Union Home Ministry under provisions of Article 72 of the Constitution. Not only this, a convict can get relief from the state where he or she is lodged,” says senior Punjab and Haryana High Court advocate Vijay Jindal.
Lawyers say the government (through Governors) could still exercise other options in respect to the Sikh prisoners in case they were willing to give some relief at least till the final orders of the Supreme Court on the stayed remission process. Punjab and Haryana High Court senior advocate Navkiran Singh says in light of the apex court directions to the states, the Governor is still vested with all the remaining powers like pardon and suspension of sentence under Article 161 of the Constitution.
Lawyers also point out that before 2007, a number of Sikh prisoners were released on High Court directions based on certain conditions like good conduct and state norms. Like Gian Singh, who was serving time in jail in connection with the killing of Sant Harchand Singh Longowal. Those still languishing in jails despite their premature release orders are Baj Singh, Hardeep Singh and Lal Singh. The Punjab government cites Supreme Court’s stay orders for not freeing them.
Meanwhile, Punjab Congress president Partap Singh Bajwa has hit out at the Akali Dal, saying it was not serious about any issue. “Can they tell people what is the exact number of Sikh prisoners in various jails of Punjab or elsewhere? The Akalis and Punjab Police have not done their homework on the issue. Why have they started talking about just 13 Sikh prisoners all of a sudden after the fast of Gurbaksh Singh? What is their stand on others? The Akalis have started the drama to move people’s attention away from the drug issue.We are against the release of hardcore terrorists but at the same time, we seek the release of those who were either implicated in false cases or were involved in crimes of routine nature,” he adds.
The family of Beant Singh, too, has demanded premature release of those not involved in terror activities and freeing those involved in the former chief minister’s killing who are ready to repent for their act. “The Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal) is shedding crocodile tears and is trying to divert people’s attention from the burning drug issue. They know nothing about the exact legal position or even the exact number of prisoners,” says Congress’ MP and Beant Singh’s grandson Ravneet Singh Bittu.
SAD spokesperson Dr Daljit Singh Cheema said the party was exploring all available legal options to seek the release of Sikh prisoners.

Shiromani AKali Dal’s list of 13 prisoners it wants released

1. Lal Singh alias Manjit Singh, resident of Akalgarh village in Phagwara.
Status: Sentenced to life imprisonment on January 8, 1997 on the basis of CBI’s FIR dated August 5, 1992 by TADA court in Ahmedabad (Rural), Gujarat. Lodged at Maximum Security Jail, Nabha.
Charge: Section 3(3) & 5 of TADA Act, Section 120-B of IPC, Section 5 of Explosive Substances Act and Section 25 of Arms Act.
Total custody: From 1992 till date; 24 paroles of 42 days each availed. No jail offence.
Case: Recovery of arms and explosive substances from two apartments in Ahmedabad in 1992.
Premature release plea: Rejected four times by Gujarat government. Punjab and Haryana High Court ordered reconsideration of plea by October 1, 2012 but on the revision petition in 2012 of Gujarat government, the Supreme Court stayed the order. Case is listed in SC for January 20.

2. Devinderpal Singh Bhullar, resident of Dialpura Bhai Ka in Bathinda.
Status: Death sentence in case registered in 1993 in Delhi. It was converted to life imprisonment by the Supreme Court on March 31, 2014. Lodged in Tihar Jail, Delhi.
Charges: Sections 302, 307 326, 120-B of IPC and Sections 3 & 4 of the Explosive Substances Act.
Case: Bhullar was convicted of triggering a bomb blast in Delhi in 1993 that killed nine people. Then Indian Youth Congress chief Maninderjit Singh Bitta was injured in the blast. The case was decided by a TADA court in Delhi on August 25, 2001.
Total custody: From January 1995 till date. Parole not availed. Bhullar has been confined to the Institute of Human Behaviour And Allied Sciences (IHBAS) at New Delhi since December 2010. No jail offence.
3. Jagtar Singh Hawara, resident of Hawara village in Fatehgarh Sahib.
Status: Death sentence for Beant Singh assassination. It was converted to life imprisonment by Punjab and Haryana High Court on October 12, 2010. Lodged in Tihar Jail, Delhi.
Case: Considered the brain behind planning and execution of the assassination. His not being present in Chandigarh on August 31, 1995 worked as a factor behind his death sentence being converted to life imprisonment. His appeal is pending in the Supreme Court.
Total custody: From 1995 to January 23, 2004 till he escaped from Burail Jail in Chandigarh; was re-arrested in June 2005 and has been in jail since. Parole not availed.
Other cases: One case of recovery of explosives underway in Ludhiana. Burail jailbreak case proceedings are on in Chandigarh. Case of attempt to murder along with Arms Act proceedings are on at Delhi. Several other cases pending in Punjab.

4. Paramjit Singh Bheora, resident of Ropar district.
Status: Life imprisonment in Beant Singh assassination case. Lodged in Tihar Jail, Delhi.
Case: Had allegedly facilitated purchase of an Ambassador car from Delhi which was used in the assassination.
Total custody: From 1997 till January 23, 2004, when he escaped from Burail Jail in Chandigarh; in jail after re-arrest in March 2006. No parole. One case of recovery of explosives proceeding in Delhi.

5. Lakhwinder Singh alias Lakha,
resident of Kansal village (Mohali).
Status: Sentenced to life imprisonment in connection with assassination of Beant Singh. Lodged in Model Jail, Burail (Chandigarh)
Charges: Sections 302, 307 read with Section 120-B of IPC and Sections 3 & 4 of Explosive Substances Act. Case decided on July 27, 2007.
Case: Was a driver with Punjab Police at Civil Secretariat. Allegedly arranged police uniforms, facilitated passes for entry of other accused, explosives-filled car.
Total custody: From 1995 till date. Two paroles of 28 days each availed. No jail offence.

6. Gurmeet Singh alias Meeta,
resident of Patiala.
Status: Life imprisonment in Beant Singh assassination case. Lodged in Model Jail, Burail
Charges: Sections 302, 307 read with Section 120-B of IPC and Sections 3 & 4 of Explosive Substances Act.
Case: A service engineer with BPL at Chandigarh, he allegedly helped in making the explosives belt worn by human bomb Dilawar Singh.
Total custody: From 1995 till date, two paroles of 28 days each availed. No jail offence.

7. Shamsher Singh,
resident of Ukasi Jattan village in Rajpura (Patiala).
Status: Life imprisonment in Beant Singh case. Lodged in Model Jail, Burail
Charges: Sections 302, 307 read with 120-B of IPC and Sections 3 & 4 of Explosive Substances Act.
Case: Allegedly connived with mastermind Jagtar Singh Hawara to bring RDX used in the blast from Pakistan.
Total custody: From 1995 till date. Two paroles of 28 days each availed. No jail offence.
8. Nand Singh  
Status: Sentenced to life imprisonment in case registered on February 13, 1995 at Police Station East, Chandigarh. Lodged in Central Jail, Patiala
Charges: Sections 302, 380, 392 (read with Section 120-B) of IPC.
Total custody: From 1995 till date. Has availed parole regularly. His case of premature release was rejected by UT, Chandigarh. Punjab and Haryana High Court ordered to reconsider it on November 18, 2014.
Case against him: Murder of a person named Bachna Ram. Nand Singh was not believed to be a militant but was linked to Jagtar Singh Hawara in the infamous Burail jailbreak case.

9. Subeg Singh, resident of Suroon
village in Patiala.
Status: Life imprisonment in case registered on February 13, 1995 in Chandigarh. Lodged in Central Jail, Ludhiana.
Charges: Sections 302, 380, 392, read with Section 120-B of IPC.
Total custody: From 1995 till date. Regular paroles availed. Case of premature release rejected by Chandigarh. High Court ordered reconsideration on November 18, 2014.
Case: Charged along with Nand Singh (now lodged in Central Jail, Patiala) with murder of a person named Bachna Ram. Subeg Singh was not said to be a militant. Was like Nand Singh linked to Jagtar Singh Hawara in Burail jailbreak case and his premature release plea was rejected.

10. Waryam Singh, resident of Bari Bara village in Shahjahanpur (Uttar Pradesh).
Status: Life imprisonment on January 10, 1995 by TADA court in Pilibhit (UP) for case registered in 1990. Lodged in Central Jail, Bareilly.
Charges: Section 120-B of IPC, Sections 3 and 4 of TADA Act.
Total custody: From April 17, 1990 till date. Parole not availed. No jail offence.
Case: Second accused in case was Major Singh, nephew of Waryam Singh. He was confined to Nabha jail and was released after order of Punjab and Haryana High Court on August 23, 2012.

11. Gurdeep Singh Khera, son of Banta Singh, resident of Jallupur Khehra in Jandiala Guru (Amritsar).
Status: Life imprisonment sentence announced on December 15, 2001 by TADA court in Karnataka; case was registered in Bidar in 1990. Lodged in Central Jail, Gulbarga (Karnataka).
Charges: Sections 302, 307, 427, 120-B of IPC, Section 3 (2) (1) of TADA Act & Section 3 of Explosives Act
Total custody: From December 6, 1990 till date. Parole not availed.
Case: Involvement in blast and murder. No jail offence. Gurdeep Singh was released from Tihar Jail in another blast and murder case after the Delhi government accepted his case of premature release on March 1, 2011.

12. Gurmeet Singh Fauji, resident of Badgaon Bal village in Boondi (Rajasthan).
Status: Sentenced to life on August 8, 2005. No parole availed. No jail offence. Lodged in
Bikaner jail
Charge: Section 302 of IPC.
Case: Murder (suspectedly of a police informer). Had come out of jail once for the marriage of his daughter.
13. Daya Singh Lahoria, son of Kirpal Singh, resident of Kasba Bharal in Sangrur.
Status: Life imprisonment on October 20, 2004 on basis of case registered on February 17, 1995 by the Fast Track Court in Jaipur (Rajasthan). Lodged in Tihar Jail, Delhi.
Charges: Sections 346, 343, 353, 364-A, 365, 420, 120-B of IPC.
Case: Was charged with abduction of the son of Congress leader Ram Niwas Mirdha in Jaipur in 1995 to put pressure for release of Devinder Pal Singh Bhullar. Mirdha’s son was rescued, and Lahoria fled to US. Was jailed in US for offences there in 1995 and extradited in 1997.
Total custody: From August 3, 1995 till date. Parole not availed. Another case of Unlawful Activities Prevention Act pending in Delhi.

Gurbaksh Singh Khalsa’s list of 7

  • Devinder Pal Singh Bhullar
  • Gurmeet Singh alias Meeta
  • Shamsher Singh
  • Lakhwinder Singh
  • Lal Singh
  • Waryam Singh
  • Gurdeep Singh Khera
(All of them find place in the Akali Dal’s list of 13 submitted to the Centre)

Several lists out

While the SGPC has given a list of 120 Sikh prisoners who it wants released, which the Punjab government has debunked, various Sikh organisations and even some lawyers like Jaspal Singh Manjhpur have come up with their own lists. Some have termed them "political prisoners".

IPC provisions

Section 302 of IPC: Murder
Section 307 of IPC: Attempt to murder
Section 120-B of IPC: Criminal conspiracy
Section 380 of IPC: Theft in dwelling
Section 392 of IPC: Robbery
TADA: Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act was an anti-terrorism law in force between 1985 and 1995

1987 Ludhiana bank dacoity: 8 senior citizens

All eight men in jail for the sensational Rs 5.7-crore Ludhiana bank dacoity case of 1987 are well above 60 years of age now. Because of their age, the prefix “Bapu” is added by jailers and inmates while addressing them. The oldest is 85-year-old Harbhajan Singh.
After a prolonged trial, the eight were sentenced to 10 years’ rigorous imprisonment on November 20, 2012 by a TADA court. Their appeals are pending in the Supreme Court. Regular paroles have been granted to them from time to time.
While 70-year-old Maan Singh has undergone heart surgery, 85-year old Harbhajan Singh is not able to walk properly. Lawyers feel that all of them should legally be released on medical grounds.
“Even in 1999, the Punjab government had released all prisoners who had attained the age of 65 years on the eve of tercentenary celebrations of the Khalsa,” says Jaspal Singh Manjhpur, a Ludhiana-based advocate who has been fighting cases of a large number of Sikh prisoners.

Maan Singh, aged 70 years, resident of Ludhiana. Lodged in Central Jail, Ludhiana

Harbhajan Singh, aged 85 years, resident of Sarinh village in Nakodar (Jalandhar). Lodged in Model Jail, Kapurthala

Balwinder Singh, aged 62 years, resident of Tahli village in Nakodar (Jalandhar). Lodged in Model Jail, Kapurthala

Mohan Singh, 73, resident of Katran Kalan village in Kartarpur (Jalandhar). Lodged in Kapurthala jail

Saroop Singh, 65, resident of Bisrampur village in  Jalandhar. Lodged in Kapurthala jail 

Avtar Singh, 77, resident of Kurali village in Jalandhar. Lodged in Kapurthala jail

Sewa Singh, 74, resident of Chak Raju Singh in  Hoshiarpur. Lodged in Kapurthala jail

Gurjant Singh, aged 72 years, resident of Kothe Jang Road in Jagraon (Ludhiana). Lodged in Nabha jail


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