Chandigarh: The Supreme Court Thursday granted anticipatory bail to Punjab’s former director general of police (DGP) Sumedh Singh Saini in a 29-year-old case of abduction and murder of a Sikh youth during the days of militancy in the state.
Balwant Singh Multani, an IAS officer’s son, had gone missing in 1991, soon after he was arrested in a case linked to a bomb blast in Saini’s car. While three men accompanying him were killed, Saini survived with injuries.
Saini, along with six others, was booked for Multani’s abduction in May this year. In August, charges of murder were added to the FIR.
The Supreme Court’s order comes as a major relief to Saini, who was on the run for several weeks before the SC stayed his arrest until further orders.
Saini has in his defence before the courts said the FIR against him is a result of a “political and personal witch hunt” launched at the behest of Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh, who he said is hostile towards him.
Akalis’ blue-eyed boy
Saini became DGP within days of the Akalis returning to power in Punjab in March 2012, making him the youngest DGP the state ever had at 54 years of age.
A protege of former DGP K.P.S. Gill, Saini had tackled the Punjab militancy with an iron hand. But his raw courage was said to be often accompanied with arrogance and misuse of power. Known for his mercurial and unpredictable demeanour, Saini courted several controversies throughout his career.
Saini remained DGP till 2015 when he was removed for the police’s shoddy handling of the protests against the sacrilege of the Guru Granth Sahib.
Two protesters had died in police firing during the demonstrations. The incident had severe political ramifications for the Akalis and continues to haunt the Badals and Saini, who are now facing multiple probes ordered by Amarinder.
After 36 years of service, Saini retired in June 2018. He has been awarded the President’s Police Medal for gallantry and the Wound Medal (Parakram medal).
In August 1991, when Saini was the senior superintendent of police (SSP) in Chandigarh, a powerful bomb exploded in his official car when Saini was going home from office.
The main accused in the case was Davinder Pal Singh Bhullar, who was later arrested and convicted for masterminding the 1993 Delhi bomb blast.
Multani was booked in December 1991 in the case under the erstwhile Terrorism and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act for allegedly harbouring one of the accused.
He was taken to a police station in Gurdaspur from where he was shown as having escaped from custody. He was never seen again. In 1993, he was declared a proclaimed offender.
In May this year, Multani’s brother Palwinder Singh filed an FIR against Saini. In his complaint, Singh referred to a December 2015 cover story of Outlook magazine, where Gurmeet Singh alias Pinky, a former policeman close to Saini, had made shocking disclosures about police conduct during militancy.
The FIR stated that according to Pinky, Saini had tortured Multani in police custody and caused his disappearance. The family apprehended that he had been killed.
Initially booked for abduction, a murder charge was added to the FIR against Saini in August this year after two of the accused — Chandigarh policemen who worked with Saini — told the court that they had witnessed Multani being tortured in Saini’s custody.
On the run
Saini’s anticipatory bail petition was dismissed by the session’s court in Mohali on 1 September, and by the Punjab and Haryana High Court on 8 September.
A few days later, the Mohali court issued a non-bailable warrant against Saini, following which he went underground to evade arrest.
On 15 September, the Supreme Court granted protection to Saini from arrest, following which Saini has appeared before the investigating team several times for questioning — the last of which took place on 26 October.
Saini had also moved the Punjab and Haryana High Court, seeking quashing of the FIR against him which was dismissed by the court in September. His appeal against the high court order is now pending with the Supreme Court.
What pushed Saini to Akalis?
Saini was once a trusted officer of CM Captain Amarinder Singh.
As the Inspector General (intelligence) in 2002, Saini played a pivotal role in assisting the Punjab vigilance bureau to unearth a cash-for-jobs scam in the Punjab Public Service Commission. The scam was busted within days of Amarinder taking over as the chief minister to showcase his poll promise of a clean administration.
However, with no reasons given, Amarinder shifted Saini out of the intelligence wing. Saini remained sidelined through Amarinder’s first term as CM — from 2002 to 2007.
Amarinder’s treatment of Saini pushed him towards the Akalis, who made him the vigilance bureau chief in 2007 when they came to power.
Within days of assuming charge, Saini booked Amarinder and his son Raninder for allegedly indulging in corruption in a multi-crore city centre project in Ludhiana.
When Amarinder came to power again in 2017, the vigilance bureau filed a closure report and all the accused were discharged in the case in November last year.
Nayagaon rape case
Once best friends, Saini and former Punjab DGP S.S. Virk fell out over the infamous Nayagaon rape case of 2005.
Saini was probing the rape case, and as part of the investigation he arrested an Indian Express journalist. The journalist later met Amarinder, who was then serving his first term as CM, over his arbitrary arrest.
Cornered, Saini was sure that Virk, the then DGP, would come to his rescue. But instead of defending Saini in the court, Virk rebuffed him for having arrested the journalist despite not having adequate evidence.
In 2007, as the vigilance chief, Saini got Virk, who was by then repatriated to his parent cadre in Maharashtra, arrested on charges of corruption and amassing disproportionate assets, a case which came to a naught in 2017.
In the Multani case, Virk’s son Pradeep, an advocate, is representing Palwinder, leading the charge against Saini.
The Saini Motors case
Saini has also been embroiled in a long-standing litigation arising out of a family feud.
In 1994, when Saini was the SSP Ludhiana, the CBI booked him for the alleged kidnapping and disappearance of three Ludhiana residents — two of them brothers.
The victims were financing an automobile dealership in Ludhiana — Saini Motors — owned by Saini’s relatives. It was alleged that Saini had fallen out with his relatives and his enmity extended to all those helping them.
In January 2007, the trial court framed charges of kidnapping and criminal conspiracy against Saini. The victims’ brother Ashish Kumar is fighting the case now for over 26 years.
The trial in the case is still underway despite being fast-tracked in 2015.
Last year, the CBI’s investigating officer in the case, Dharampal Singh, now 78 years of age, turned hostile, pleading that he had forgotten most of the case.
The case was last heard on 11 November when arguments took place on applications moved by the CBI and the complainant, seeking revocation of exemption granted to Saini from personal appearance in the case. The orders on these applications are expected Friday.