43 policemen convicted for killing 10 Sikhs in 1991

The policemen leave a Lucknow court after their conviction in 2016. On July 12, 1991, they stopped a luxury bus filled with Sikh pilgrims and forced 10 passengers to get off. They claimed the next day that 10 Khalistani terrorists had been killed.
| Photo Credit: The Hindu

The Allahabad High Court on Thursday convicted 43 policemen for culpable homicide in a case relating to killing of 10 Sikhs in Pilibhit district of Uttar Pradesh in 1991. They were sentenced to seven years’ rigorous imprisonment with fine of ₹10,000.

However, the Bench of Justice Ramesh Sinha and justice Saroj Yadav set aside the murder conviction given by a lower court. It said there was “no ill-will between the accused and those killed. The accused were public servants and their object was the advancement of public justice”.  

According to the prosecution case, on July 12, 1991, the policemen pulled 10 Sikhs out of a bus, shot them in three separate encounters, and claimed that all were terrorists.

The accused policemen told the court that they acted in self-defence. “When they saw the terrorists come out from the forest area, they challenged them and all of a sudden, the terrorists opened fire and in retaliation and in self-defence, the appellants opened fire and, in that way, 10 terrorists were killed,” the court was told by the counsel of the accused.

The court, however, said the claim of self-defence “does not corroborate with the medical evidence”. Citing ante-mortem injuries on four of the 10 deceased, it observed apart from “injuries of fire arm, lacerated and abrasion wounds as well as amputation were found”.

“The appellants have failed to explain the lacerated wounds, abrasions and amputation caused on the body of the deceased,” the court said.

The court further added that from the evidence placed on record, it appears the police had a confidential report of some terrorists traveling with the passengers to Nanakmatta, Patna Sahib. “The prosecution has shown criminal antecedents of four to six deceased who were involved in various terrorist activities in Punjab. The evidences proved that those killed were also operating in the Tarai region of Pilibhit district and nearby areas. There were various criminal cases of murder, loot, TADA activities lodged against some of the deceased, namely, Baljit Singh alias Pappu, Jaswant Singh, Harminder Singh alias Minta, Surjan Singh alias Bittu, Lakhvinder Singh,” it said.

But there were no such records available for the other deceased. The only arguments by the appellants counsel was that the other deceased who were shot in encounter were companions of the four deceased. But this is “not at all acceptable as act of the appellants cannot be justified to kill innocent persons along with some terrorist taking them to be also terrorists”, said the court.

It added there is no doubt that the policemen have exceeded the powers given to them by law. But the accused policemen believed that killing them was lawful and necessary for the due discharge of their duty. “In such circumstances, the offence that was committed by the appellants, was culpable homicide not amounting to murder punishable under Section 304 of I.P.C,” the court said.

It further set aside the conviction and sentence of the accused cops under Sections 302/120-B, 364/120-B, 365/120-B, 218/120-B, 117/120-B of I.P.C. by means of the impugned judgment passed on April 01, 2016 by the special CBI trial court.

“It is not the duty of the police officer to kill the accused merely because he/she is a dreaded criminal. Undoubtedly the police has to arrest the accused and put them on trial,” the court said while announcing conviction of the accused and sentenced them to seven years’ rigorous imprisonment with fine of ₹10,000.

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