New Delhi/Chandigarh: The Centre has stayed the hanging of Babbar Khalsa terrorist Balwant Singh Rajoana, who was sentenced to death for the assassination of then Punjab chief minister Beant Singh in 1995. The decision follows a mercy petition filed by Sikh body, Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), that has been actively backed by the Punjab government and other political parties in the state.
A court in Chandigarh had ruled on Tuesday that Rajoana should be hanged as scheduled on March 31. The court was hearing a plea from the Patiala Jail Superintendent.
"Taking into consideration our appeal, the President had referred the matter to the Home Ministry, which has stayed the execution of Balwant Singh till the matter is clear in the Supreme Court or mercy plea is considered by the President," Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal said after meeting with President Pratibha Patil today. Mr Badal, alongwith his son and Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal, also handed over a mercy petition on behalf of the state government seeking clemency for Rajoana. The President's office later forwarded his petition to the Union Home Ministry, which will decide on the matter in due course of time. As per law, the petition would then be sent to the Law Ministry and the Punjab government for comments after which, it would be forwarded to the President with recommendations of the Home Ministry. The President's office already has 18 mercy petitions pending with it.
Mr Badal has been under immense pressure in the last few days with radical Sikh groups demanding clemency for Rajoana. Sukhbir Singh Badal, who is also the President of the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), had said today, "We are not politicising the issue. We want clemency for Rajoana. We are meeting the President. We have also sought time from the Prime Minister." Mr Badal stressed that not just the Akalis but the Congress, and other political parties in Punjab, were also supporting the SGPC's demand.
The matter of two other terrorists, Jagtar Singh Hawara and Lakhwinder Singh, convicted in the same case, is pending before the Supreme Court. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has approached the Supreme Court in Hawara's case as his death sentence, awarded by the CBI special court in 2007, was commuted by the Punjab and Haryana High Court in 2010 to life imprisonment. The appeal of Lakhwinder Singh against his conviction is also pending.
However, the High Court had upheld Rajoana's death sentence in the case as he had refused to defend himself. Kamaljeet Kaur, Mr Rajoana's sister, who met him in jail earlier today reiterated that he is not interested in asking for mercy.
Meanwhile, a bandh in the state today, called by radical Sikh groups to protest against the scheduled hanging, threw normal life out of gear - forcing schools and shops to shut down. Saffron-coloured flags could be seen flying on buildings, houses and shops. In Patiala, Shiv Sainiks clashed with protesters, and National Highway 1 was blocked. Trains between Ferozepur and Jalandhar were also blocked with protesters sitting on the rail track near Ferozepur station.
Additional Director General of Police (ADGP), Law and Order, S.K. Sharma told IANS there were no major incidents of violence during the shutdown.
Authorities in Punjab had beefed up security arrangements across the state in view of the latest orders of the court directing that Rajoana be hanged. Nearly 60,000 Punjab police personnel and 15 companies of para-military forces had been put on alert. The security forces had taken out flag marches in some cities and towns since Monday. Security has also been tightened around the jail to handle any untoward incident. Prohibitory orders are in place across Chandigarh to stop assembly of groups.
A former Punjab Police constable, Mr Rajoana has refused to defend himself in the Beant Singh assassination case saying that he was involved. Beant Singh, Punjab chief minister between 1992 and 1995 and largely credited with wiping out terrorism from the state, was assassinated by a human bomb, Dilawar Singh, at the high security Punjab civil secretariat in Chandigarh on August 31, 1995.
While Hawara was the mastermind of the assassination, Rajoana was the second human bomb to be used in case the first assassin failed. Rajoana, during the entire 11-year trial, had admitted that he alone was responsible for the killing of Beant Singh. The family members of Beant Singh have also stated that they had forgiven Rajoana and that his death sentence be converted to life imprisonment.