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Custodial torture victim seeks enhancement of compensation

May 28, 2013 | By

Chandigarh/Punjab (May 28, 2013): According to media reports a Sikh resident of Amritsar Sarabjit Singh (43), who was subjected to torture in custody by Punjab police won a decade and-a-half-long legal battle on January 15, 2013 when a district court slapped Rs 10-lakh damages on the Punjab government. But Sarabjit Singh, who was branded by police a ‘terrorist’, is now fighting legal battle to get the compensation money enhanced to Rs 50 lakh.

News Clip – Courtsy: Hindustan Times

As per information on May 27, 2013 Amritsar district and sessions judge H. S. Madaan fixed July 24, 2013 as next court date for hearing final arguments on the plaintiff’s plea.

It is notable that on January 15, Amritsar additional civil judge Parminder Singh Rai had awarded Rs 10- l akh compensation to Sarabjit Singh. The court had directed the state government to pay the compensation within three months.

While directing the state government to pay the awarded compensation with in three months, Judge Parminder Singh Rai had observed: “The evidence on record proves irresistibly that a saviour organ (police) of the state, meant to protect rights of people, has transgressed its powers in a most lethal way to the detriment of the most enshrined fundamental right of the Constitution, that is, right to life and liberty”.

As per information the court had also directed that the compensation money be deducted from the accounts of the two police officers who had wrongly investigated the two cases in which the plaintiff and other accused were later acquitted.

It is notable that two cases against Sarabjit Singh, along with some others, were lodged in 1992 and 1998, when they were picked up by cops in Amritsar. In both the FIRs, Sarabjit Singh was accused of being a ‘terrorist’. Both cases fell flat as all accused were acquitted in the Punjab and Haryana high court in April 2000 and March 2007, respectively.

The Punjab State Human Rights Commission (PSHRC) had pronounced a preliminary compensation of Rs 50,000 after a commission inquiry found Sarabjit Singh innocent.

Judge Parminder Singh Rai had observed: “It is highly unimaginable even to think in the wildest of dreams in the social and democratic set-up that an act of false implications would be at the instance of the police and that too with the allegations against a person to be a terrorist, a dacoit, involved in anti-national activities. What to speak of being sensitive to the plight of common citizens of the state, the local police is active in a most callous and pathetic way. It did not even care about the recommendations of the PSHRC, which ultimately had to move the high court for enforcement of its recommendations”.

The PSHRC had moved the high court for implementation of its recommendations for Rs 50,000 interim relief and cancellation of the FIR lodged against Sarabjit Singh and six others (including a journalist and a witness in the Jaswant Singh Khalra murder case) in July 1998, when they were kept in illegal custody before being produced as “terrorists” in a court a few days later.

Journalist died before acquittal:

According to Hindustan Times (HT): “Among the seven accused in the 1998 police abduction case was a journalist, Rachhpal Singh, and Rajiv Randhawa, a key witness in the Jaswant Singh Khalra murder case that was disposed of following the conviction of guilty cops. Rachhpal did not live to see his acquittal — he died during the trial”.

“Khalra, a human rights activist who exposed illegal mass cremations of hundreds of missing youths at the hands of the police, went missing in the 1995 and was never found”, HT report reads further.

Custodial Torture widespread in Punjab and India:

Custodial torture is systematically widespread in Punjab and elsewhere in India. In it’s recent issue “Tehelka”, an investigative weekly, has noted that: “[f]our undertrials die in police custody every day in India — a disturbing number for one of the oldest judicial systems in the world. Between 2001 and 2010 the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) registered 14,231 custodial deaths. And this is just the tip of the iceberg, as custodial torture not leading to death seldom makes news. Nonetheless, once the police dismiss the death as a suicide, result of sudden medical complication or self-inflicted injuries, justice eludes the deceased’s relatives as the entire system works to shield the torturers”.

In 2011 Sohan Singh of Tarn Taran district was tortured to death in custody. Sohan Singh alias Sohanjeet Singh was taken into custody by Special Unit of Punjab Police on 3 March, 2011 and was kept in illegal custody, in violation of law, till 7 March, 2011. Sohan Singh was tortured during this period of illegal custody. The brutal torture continued even during his police remand till 14 March, 2011 when he died due to excessive physical torture. Punjab police declared that Sohan Singh has committed “suicide” by hanging himself to the ceiling fan.

In September 2012 Bhai Kulvir Singh Barapind, President of Akali Dal Panch Pardhani (a Sikh nationalist party) was also administered electric shocks in police custody. Bhai Barapind is a democratically elected member of Shiromani Gurdwara Prabhandak Committee (SGPC) from Phillaur constituency. As Bhai Barapind was extradited from US on a condition that he shall not be torture in India, he has recently moved to a US court against India seeking $ 1 million compensation.

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