Sumedh Saini Moves SC: The Story Behind Punjab’s Fugitive Cop
Badal’s favourite, KPS Gill’s protege and now a cop on the run - the sudden downfall of ex-Punjab DGP Sumedh Saini.
“All it takes is one lamp to say ‘I challenge this darkness.’” - this is what human rights activist from Punjab Jaswant Singh Khalra said in his last speech before he was abducted 25 years ago.
Khalra unearthed thousands of illegal killings in Punjab until he was himself abducted by the police on 6 September 1995 never to be seen again.
His words of hope above may now be resonating among those fighting for justice for victims of enforced disappearances and extra-judicial killings in Punjab. Exactly 25 years after Khalra’s abduction, former DGP Sumedh Saini, who once seemed invincible in Punjab, is on the run from the law.
The Punjab and Haryana High Court rejected Sumedh Saini’s petition for anticipatory bail on 8 September. He has now approached the Supreme Court which will hear the matter on 15 September.
On Tuesday, 8 September, the Punjab and Haryana High Court rejected Saini's anticipatory bail petition in connection with a 29-year-old abduction and murder case.
However, he has challenged this in the Supreme Court, which will hear the matter on 15 September.
With Saini absconding, activists have put up ‘wanted’ posters with Saini’s name and mugshot.
In a state where top cops have enjoyed impunity, Saini’s fall is a rarity.
From being Punjab’s youngest Director General of Police in 2012 to having his name in ‘wanted’ posters eight years later, it has been a dramatic fall for former top cop Sumedh Saini.
So who is Sumedh Saini and how did the law finally catch up with him?
From KPS Gill’s Blue-Eyed Boy to Badals’ Favourite
- Sumedh Saini is a 1982-batch IPS officer of the Punjab cadre. Heavily involved in counter-insurgency operations during the Khalistan militancy, Saini became the blue-eyed boy of former DGP KPS Gill.
- He served as Senior Superintendent of Police in Batala, Ferozepur, Ludhiana, Bathinda, Ropar and Chandigarh.
- He became IG (Intelligence) in 2002, chief of vigilance bureau in 2007 and finally DGP in 2012.
- He is known to have been close to the Shiromani Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party regime, under which he got many of his key appointments. For instance he became Punjab's youngest DGP in 2012, superseding four more senior officers mainly due to the support of Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal and his deputy Sukhbir Badal.
Saini expanded his power due to the Badals’ backing, and by promoting his favourites within the force and sidelining those who didn't toe his line.
This was his approach towards journalists as well. Saini had his clear favourites, who in turn wrote stories glorifying him as “Dirty Harry” or someone who is "tough on Khalistanis".
However, Saini's rise is also said to have come with allegations of atrocities and impunity.
For instance In 1992, Saini assaulted a serving army officer Lieutenant Colonel Ravi Vats and placed him under detention for no reason. He allegedly also tried to intimidate a journalist trying to cover the story.
Ensaaf, a non-profit organisation focusing on police impunity in Punjab, alleges that over 150 enforced disappearances or killings took place in areas under Saini’s command.
Their study alleges that Saini was personally involved in at least 24 such cases.
One such case is that of Balwant Singh Multani in December 1991.
The Case That Cost Saini
The Abduction of Balwant Multani
- This goes back to 1991, when Saini was SSP Chandigarh. In August that year, Saini faced a car bomb attack when he was on his way back home. Three people including Saini's driver and an ASI were killed while Saini was injured.
- One of the persons the Punjab Police accused of being behind the assassination attempt was Balwant Singh Multani, a junior engineer with the government in Chandigarh and the son of IAS officer Darshan Singh Multani.
- Sometime in December 1991, Balwant was picked up by the police. The police later submitted in court that Balwant was arrested on 13 December and taken to Qadian Police Station in Gurdaspur district on 18 December.
- The police claims he escaped on the 19th and was never seen since. He was later declared a proclaimed offender. In the end of the month, Balwant's father filed a habeas corpus petition asking that his son be produced but it was dismissed.
The Case Reopens
- However, when three other accused in the blast were acquitted in 2007, the state government filed an appeal. The high court rejected the appeal and sought the CBI's help on the status of the proclaimed offenders, including Balwant.
- That's when Darshan Singh Multani filed another affidavit claiming that his son was killed in an encounter in 1991 itself. He even cited there were witnesses who could testify to this.
- The high court then asked CBI to inquire whether Balwant and two other accused Navneet and Manjit were killed in encounters.
- Another co-accused Gursharan Kaur gave a statement blaming Saini for Balwant's disappearance. She claimed to have seen Balwant in an injured state at the police station.
- A Caravan report quotes Gursharan as claiming that Saini threatened her husband and told him, “I killed him (Balwant) despite his father and uncle being IAS officers. Do you also want to die?”
- The CBI inquiry also said that he was tortured and raised doubts over the police's claims that he had escaped.
SAD-BJP government defended Sumedh Saini calling him a ‘decorated officer’ and saying that he played a leading role in the ‘war against terrorism’.
- On 2 July 2008, CBI registered an FIR against Saini in the case but it was quashed due to an appeal by the SAD-BJP government. The appeal said that Saini is a "decorated officer" who had played a leading role in the "war against terrorism".
- However, the court allowed fresh FIRs to be filed and Balwant's brother Palwinder Singh Multani got an FIR lodged against Saini and others.
Cops Spill the Beans on Saini
- The other key turning point in the case came in 2015, when special police officer Gurmeet Singh 'Pinky' gave an interview to Outlook in which he implicated Saini in several extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances, including that of Balwant Multani. Pinky claimed that Multani was tortured and murdered in police custody.
- In May this year, Saini and six other cops were booked by the Mohali police on charges of abduction, causing disappearance of evidence of offence and criminal conspiracy and an SIT was formed.
- In August this year, two co-accused, former Inspector Jagir Singh and ASI Kuldeep Singh, turned approvers against Saini in the Multani case, claiming that they had witnessed the torture. This gave the SIT the chance to add the murder charge against Saini.
Saini’s Tussle With Political Establishment & Judiciary
In a state where the police is often associated with impunity, Saini is a rare top cop to see a downfall. This is partly due to the ire he earned from a sections of the political establishment, judiciary and even his rivals within the police.
Tussle With Captain Amarinder Singh
- Irrespective of who is in power, the Punjab Police's dominance has seldom been challenged by political masters. Officers who were notorious for encounters and enforced disappearances during the Congress rule of the 1980s and early 1990s continued to thrive when SAD-BJP took over in 1997.
- Saini's case was similar but towards the end of Captain Amarinder Singh's first term (2002-07), his equation with the Congress leader went awry. He became close to the Akalis between 2007 to 2012 and his stint in the vigilance bureau harmed his equation with the Congress even more, especially his probe into the alleged irregularities in the state public service commission.
Saini’s downfall began with the 2015 sacrilege cases at Bargari and the police firing on Sikhs protesting the sacrilege at Behbal Kalan that killed two protesters.
- His downfall began with the 2015 sacrilege cases at Bargari and the police firing on Sikhs protesting the sacrilege at Behbal Kalan. The killing of 2 protesters in police firing angered Sikhs and Saini was seen as the villain of the incident.
- Facing flak, the Badals were forced to replace him with Suresh Arora. Matters became worse for him when SAD-BJP were voted out in 2017 and Captain Amarinder Singh became CM with a huge majority.
- Captain constituted an inquiry into the sacrilege and firing cases under Justice (retd.) Ranjit Singh. The inquiry commission found Sumedh Saini responsible for the action, in the report it submitted in 2018.
Judiciary Finds Saini’s Vigilance Report ‘Suspect’
Also harming Saini’s cause was his tussle with the judiciary, especially during his tenure as vigilance chief.
In 2009, a story appeared in Hindustan Times based on a Vigilance Bureau report claiming malpractices in the Punjab and Haryana High Court. The report is said to have been based on tapped phone conversations of two individuals who claimed to have been fixing judicial appointments.
The court took a stern view of the "vigilance report" as well as the news story. Former CJI Justice TS Thakur, who was then in the Punjab and Haryana High Court, rubbished the vigilance report as "suspect material" and indicated that the information may have been obtained through "not so legal means". This was seen as a direct snub to Saini.
Former CJI TS Thakur rubbished Saini’s vigilance report and indicated that it was obtained through suspicious means
Vinod Kumar Case - A Judge Receives Threats
- Another case in which Saini was in the crosshairs of the judiciary is the disclosure by former high court judge VK Jhanji, who alleged that he received a threatening call in 1995 when he was hearing a case in which Saini's name figured. The anonymous caller allegedly told Jhanji that he would "pick him up and throw him into the furnace".
- The case was regarding the alleged abduction of automobile businessman Vinod Kumar, his brother in law Ashok Kumar and driver Mukhtiyar Singh. Saini was named as an accused in the case and the allegation was that he wanted to harass this family due to some personal rivalry with his own relatives who were Kumar's business partners.
“It appeared to the Court that Mr. Sumedh Singh Saini, SSP, Ludhiana and the officers working under him at Ludhiana had no respect for the orders of this Court.”Justice VK Jhanji on 22 December 1995.
- The case is going on even today. Vinod Kumar's mother Amar Kaur continued to fight the legal battle for 23 years, until her death at the age of 102 in 2017.
- "Allegations made in the application as well as affidavits filed by Vinod Kumar, were so serious in nature that it appeared to the Court that Mr. Sumedh Singh Saini, SSP, Ludhiana and the officers working under him at Ludhiana had no respect for the orders of this Court," Justice Jhanji had observed in court on 22 December 1995.
What Happens Next?
Now with the court denying anticipatory bail to Saini, he would have to appeal to the Supreme Court. The SIT is already conducting raids in Chandigarh and Hoshiarpur to nab Saini. If his appeal in the Supreme Court fails, Saini will have no choice but to surrender in the Balwant Multani case.
Once he is arrested, it is also likely that Saini begins facing more heat in the Behbal Kalan firing case as well.
The case also has the potential of politically harming the Badals as the allegation is that not just Saini, but Sukhbir Badal was also responsible for the firing as the two of them were in close touch during the entire crisis.
But the significance of Saini's case goes beyond politics. Saini would be the first top cop to be booked for abduction and murder, a major victory for those who have been fighting for justice of those killed in fake encounters or made to forcibly disappear in Punjab in the 1980s and 1990s.
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