Top court dubs HC relief for ex-DGP Saini as ‘unprecedented’ 

The Punjab and Haryana HC ’s order giving blanket protection from arrest to former Punjab DGP SS Saini has earned the displeasure of SC. CJI NV Ramana has directed the HC Chief Justice to assign the case to another Bench and dispose it of in two weeks., writes Sunny Sharma

The Supreme Court has directed the high court’s chief justice to decide the matter in two weeks. The apex court’s direction came on an appeal filed by the Punjab government challenging the HC orders on September 10 last year and another recently that extended the bail granted to former Punjab director general of police (DGP) Saini in a host of criminal cases till April 20.

The Punjab and Haryana high court had recently extended a September 2021 order staying probe in different FIRs against former Punjab director general of police (DGP) Sumedh Singh Saini till April 20.  The matter was taken up by the bench of justice Arvind Singh Sangwan, which deferred the hearing till April and also extended interim protection given to the former DGP.

The High Court on September 9 gave protection to Saini terming it a case of “exceptional circumstances” and observing that “involvement of the petitioner in multiple cases can be a political ploy in wake of the assembly general elections’ ‘. The High Court ordered that there will be a clear stay on his arrest in all cases pending or likely to be registered except one FIR where the matter is pending before the Supreme Court.

The High Court had even stayed all pending investigations and exempted Saini from appearing before any court where trial was pending. The HC order applied to all cases pending or likely to be registered as the judge was of the opinion that the multiple cases against the petitioner could be a “political ploy” in the wake of elections in the state.

In his 46-page judgment, Justice Sangwan had asserted the order was being passed considering it to be a case of exceptional circumstances and hardship being caused to the petitioner by the State of Punjab on political grounds.  Taking up Saini’s plea filed through counsel S.P.S. Sidhu, Justice Sangwan asserted: “List again on April 20. Interim order dated September 10, 2021, will continue till the next date of hearing.”  Justice Sangwan had earlier asserted Saini’s involvement in multiple cases could be a “political ploy in the wake of the coming state Assembly elections”. The order, passed on September 10 last year, was directed to remain in force at least till the election to the state in February. Saini had also sought directions to the Punjab government to keep any proposal for arresting him in any criminal matter, in abeyance for a specific period so that he could seek recourse to his legal remedies. His lawyers had argued that in the wake of the Punjab Assembly elections the former DGP might be targeted and the state government may adopt illegal methods to arrest him by citing his name in different cases.

The High Court had also stayed investigations against the former DGP observing that attempts are being made to arrest him. His personal appearance before any court where any trial was pending was also exempted.

The Bench headed by chief justice of India (CJI) NV Ramana said, “It is shocking that such an unprecedented order has been passed. The high court cannot say even for future cases you cannot be arrested.”  It may be worth mentioning that the single Judge of the High Court had ordered that Saini should not be arrested till April 20 in various cases pending against him except one — the murder of Balwant Singh Multani, which is pending in the top court. The Supreme Court had earlier granted Saini anticipatory bail in the Balwant Singh Multani disappearance case of 1991. In 1991, Multani was picked up after an attack on Saini and three police officers. The three died and Saini was grievously injured. The police later claimed that Multani had escaped from police custody and disappeared. However, a murder charge was later added in the case after two of the accused policemen in the case turned approvers. A first information report (FIR) was registered against Saini on the basis of a complaint by Multani’s family. As per the High Court orders, “The only exception would be FIR No. 77, where the matter is pending before the Supreme Court,” the court ruled.

Punjab’s advocate general Deepinder Singh Patwalia who has put in his papers after Congress lost power to AAP in Punjab, representing the state, pointed out that the High Court has virtually tied the hands of the police from proceeding against Saini, who is an accused in multiple offences.  The Punjab Advocate General submitted that a single Judge had granted blanket protection against everything. Patwalia pointed out that the September 10 order of the high court was passed on the ground that the petitioner had alleged he might be arrested ahead of the state assembly elections, voting for which took place on February 20. “By the previous order, even the investigation into the FIRs was stayed. Now this order has been extended till April 20 on the same reasoning,” the advocate general said.

Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, representing the 1982-batch IPS officer Saini, opposed the state’s appeal. “I have got protection from this court on the grounds of malafide action by the state. This man is a former director general of police of Punjab who has survived an assassination attempt. After his retirement in 2018, he is now facing half a dozen cases,” he argued. Mukul Rohatgi, appearing on caveat for the former top cop, said his client was a decorated police officer and a victim of the State government’s mala fide efforts to frame him in false cases.

To this, CJI Ramana said, “Whatever it may be, you can’t pass an order saying in future cases also he can’t be arrested? What is this?”  The Bench observed, “We have never seen such a type of order passed in our entire life. We do not appreciate such orders being passed. We feel it is unprecedented.”   “But this is an unprecedented order. How can future courses of action be stayed? It is shocking…” the Bench made its displeasure clear.  The court said, considering the “peculiar facts” of the case, it would ask the Chief Justice of the Punjab and Haryana High Court to assign the case to another Bench and dispose of it in two weeks.