Centre put on notice as Punjab releases its share of damages for Blue Star detainees || SNE ||
By The Print .
Jun 30, 2018
Amarinder Singh outmaneuvers SAD and AAP, which attacked Congress over the issue. The move also takes away an emotive poll plank from the opposition.
Chandigarh: Punjab chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh sought to rob the opposition of an emotive poll plank for 2019 as he awarded Rs 2.2 crore in compensation to 40 of the 365 men arrested during Operation Blue Star and detained at a Jodhpur prison for several years. The amount forms the state’s share of the damages, with the Centre supposed to give an equivalent amount.
Alleging “wrongful detention and torture”, the 40 Jodhpur detainees had moved an Amritsar court for compensation and received a favorable verdict in April last year. As he handed over the cheques Thursday, Amarinder vowed to compensate the remaining 325 men and their families as well and promised to persuade the Centre to do the same.
In releasing the compensation, the Congress sought to outmaneuver the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), who had taken on the party over the issue after the court verdict last year.
Who are the Jodhpur detainees?
Between 4 and 6 June 1984, during Operation Blue Star, nearly 1,500 people were arrested from the Golden Temple. Of these, 379 were booked for treason, while the others were let off after a few months. As many as 365 were handed over to the CBI and shifted to a Jodhpur jail, where they remained during the course of the investigation and trial. Initially, the detainees included the late former Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee chief Gurcharan Singh Tohra.
The detention became a sensitive issue and their release was a demand put forth during the various peace initiatives, including the Rajiv-Longowal Accord of 1985. Finally, they were released in three batches, between 1989 and 1991. Of those detained, 71 moved the court to seek compensation. The case went on for almost two decades before being dismissed in 2011. By then, many had died or lost the will to contest the case, and eventually, 40 of them filed an appeal in an Amritsar court.
The court awarded them Rs 4 lakh each as compensation with 6 percent interest (from the date of filing of the appeal to the payment of compensation). The total compensation, including interest, came to Rs 4.5 crore, to be paid jointly by the Centre and the state.
As many as 100 detainees have died since their release. Of the 40 who moved the Amritsar court, seven have died and their families were given the compensation. Many of the Jodhpur detainees (not among those compensated) went on to join politics, including Akali leaders Virsa Singh Valtoha, Bhai Manjit Singh, Rajinder Singh Mehta, Gurcharan Singh Grewal and Amarjit Singh Chawla, and Congress leader Harminder Singh Gill, who was present at Thursday’s ceremony.
Centre contests compensation claim
While the Punjab government gave an undertaking to the Amritsar court to pay half the amount, the union government moved an appeal in the Punjab and Haryana High Court on 28 May. In the appeal, an under-secretary of the home ministry contested the need for compensation, saying the Jodhpur detainees were with militants during Operation Blue Star and questioning the Amritsar court’s jurisdiction.
“The question of an attack on the Golden Temple did not arise. Rather the defendants (union of India) held the holy Harmandir Sahib in utmost esteem,” the appeal said“In fact, terrorists had entrenched themselves in and around the Golden Temple complex, which had been declared as (a) disturbed area,” the appeal added.
The appeal, scheduled to come up for hearing on 2 July, added that the Army had only entered the complex “in aid of the civil administration to maintain law and order… to flush out the militants, to seize arms ammunition and explosives which were illegally stored by the terrorists in the Golden Temple complex”.The government has claimed that before the operation began the Army had asked the people inside to surrender. While 119 people did, others, including the Jodhpur detainees, did not.
Politics of the matter
The issue became a political hot button in the wake of the Centre’s plea, with AAP MLA and Punjab leader of the opposition Sukhpal Singh Khaira saying he was “peeved” at the “timid decision of the Modi government to oppose a very belated meager relief of Rs 4 lakh” for the detainees. In fact, while making a controversial remark seen as a justification for a referendum on Khalistan, Khaira had cited the issue as one of the “unresolved Sikh matters”.
Meanwhile, a SAD delegation led by union minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal met union home minister Rajnath Singh on 19 June in connection with the matter, claiming later that the Centre had agreed to withdraw the appeal. The SAD and the BJP are coalition partners.The chief minister has also written to Rajnath. “I was prepared to release the full compensation to the 40 detainees,” he said Thursday, “but I was informed by the central government of its decision to release its share.”