SC scraps plea to transfer sacrilege case out of Punjab

Supreme Court dismisses plea to transfer 2015 sacrilege case outside of Punjab

Accused belonged to Dera Sacha Sauda sect

Credit: PTI file photo.

The Supreme Court on Wednesday dismissed a plea for transfer of pending trial in 2015 sacrilege cases against members of Dera Sacha Sauda sect from Bhatinda, Moga and Faridkot districts to a court in Delhi or to any nearby state outside Punjab.

A bench of Justice Hrishikesh Roy rejected the claims of communally-charged atmosphere in Punjab and threat to life made by petitioners Jatinderveer Arora and others.

"The transfer of trial from one state to another would inevitably reflect on the credibility of the state’s judiciary. Except from compelling factors and clear situation of deprivation of fair justice, the transfer power should not be invoked," the court said.

It also pointed out the projection of surcharged atmosphere was not borne out by the corresponding reaction of the petitioners, who were out on bail.

"Being residents of Punjab, they continue to reside at their usual place and are going about their routine affairs. If their threat perceptions were genuine, they could not have gone about their normal ways," the court said.

The bench also said the sacrilege incidents occurred in 2015. Even after years of naming of the accused, there has been no complaint by the petitioners of any threat to their security or to their associates. The trial court's daily orders also do not reflect any bias faced, either by the accused or their family, the court added.

The bench, however, said the Punjab government must make all arrangement to ensure safe conduct of proceedings at the trial courts and also provide adequate security to the petitioners and their associates as might be warranted from the security perspective.

The petitioners claimed the accused who were members of the Dera Sacha Sauda sect, faced bias and prejudice and were unlikely to get a fair trial in the face of strong presumption of culpability.

They said the alleged sacrilege of the holy book, Shri Guru Granth Sahibji in different places in Punjab, generated deep anguish and bitterness amongst a particular religious group, who formed majority of the population in Punjab. This has led to communally surcharged atmosphere, making fair trial impossible.

With regard to murder of the accused Mohinder Pal Singh Bittoo on June 22, 2019 inside the Nabha Central jail, the court relied upon the Punjab government's plea that he was killed by inmates, undergoing life term, against whom a charge sheet has been filed and trial has commenced.