SC judge recuses himself from hearing appeal of Sajjan Kumar

Former Congress leader has challenged the Delhi High Court verdict that sentenced him to life term in a 1984 anti-Sikh riots case, reports Tehelka Bureau

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Supreme Court judge Justice Sanjiv Khanna recently recused himself from hearing the appeal of former Congress leader Sajjan Kumar challenging the Delhi High Court verdict that sentenced him to life term in a 1984 anti-Sikh riots case. The apex court on January 14 had sought response from the CBI on the appeal of the former Congress leader and had posted the matter for hearing his appeal and the bail plea for today. “My brother (Justice Sanjiv Khanna) does not want to hear,” a bench comprising Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice Khanna said at the out set.

The bench then ordered that the plea of Kumar be listed before an appropriate bench to which Justice Khanna was not part and adjourned the hearing. The apex court had earlier admitted the appeal of Sajjan Kumar for hearing and had also issued notice to the CBI on his bail plea and had sought its response within four weeks. It had also allowed the former Congress leader to file “lengthy list of dates” and “additional facts and grounds” in favour of his appeal.

The 73-year-old Kumar had surrendered before a trial court here on December 31, 2018 to serve the sentence in pursuance of the high court’s December 17 judgment awarding him life imprisonment for the “remainder of his natural life”. After his conviction in the case, Kumar had resigned from the Congress party. The case in which Kumar was convicted and sentenced relates to the killing of five Sikhs in Delhi Cantonment’s Raj Nagar Part-I area of southwest Delhi on November 1-2, 1984 and burning down of a Gurudwara in Raj Nagar.

The anti-Sikh riots had broken out after the assassination of then prime minister Indira Gandhi on October 31, 1984 by her two Sikh bodyguards. The high court had convicted and sentenced Kumar to spend the remainder of his life in jail for the offences of criminal conspiracy and abetment in commission of crimes of murder, promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of communal harmony and defiling and destruction of a Gurdwara.

It had also upheld the conviction and varying sentences awarded by a trial court to five others former Congress councillor Balwan Khokhar, retired naval officer Captain Bhagmal, Girdhari Lal and former MLAs Mahender Yadav and Kishan Khokhar. In its judgment, the high court had noted that over 2,700 Sikhs were killed in the national capital during the 1984 riots which was indeed a “carnage of unbelievable proportions”.

It had said the riots were a “crime against humanity” perpetrated by those who enjoyed “political patronage” and aided by an “indifferent” law enforcement agency. The high court had set aside the trial court’s 2010 verdict which had acquitted Kumar in the case.

In a separate development, Uttar Pradesh government has constituted a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to probe the circumstances that led to riots in Kanpur in 1984 following the assassination of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. “The four-member SIT will be headed by retired UP Director General of Police, Atul. Other members of the team include retired District Judge Subhash Chandra Agarwal and retired Additional Director (Prosecution) Yogeshwar Krishna Srivastava. One serving police officer of SP or SSP rank will also be the part of the team. The SIT has been asked to submit its report in 6 months. In August 2017, the apex court had issued a notice to the state government on a petition seeking a SIT probe of the riots. At least 125 people were killed in 1984 riots in Kanpur after the assassination of then PM Indira Gandhi.