Bargari sacrilege case key accused cremated; SIT constituted to probe murder

A Dera Sacha Sauda follower, who was a key accused in a four-year-old sacrilege case in Bargari, was cremated Monday evening after officials held marathon talks with sect members and Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh announced an SIT to probe his death in an attack in Nabha prison.

At a high-level meeting of police and administrative officials in Chandigarh, Amarinder Singh ordered constitution of a Special Investigation Team to probe the killing of Mahinderpal Bittu (49) in the high-security prison allegedly by two inmates.

In Kotkapura, Faridkot deputy commissioner and district police chief held a marathon meeting with the Dera members, who were demanding a judicial probe into the killing, and withdrawal of the sacrilege case against Bittu.

They told the Dera members and Bittu's family members that an inquiry has been ordered into the incident and assured them of an impartial probe into the matter.

The officials also informed them about the constitution of the SIT following which the Dera members and the family agreed for cremation.

The SIT will be headed by ADGP (Law and Order) Ishwar Singh, who will probe all aspects of the attack, an official statement said.

"The SIT will ascertain the conspiracy, if any, in the killing of Bittu by prison inmates. It will also investigate the role of the prison staff," it said.

The SIT members include IG Patiala Amardeep Rai, DIG Intelligence Hardial Mann, SSP, Patiala Mandeep Singh, and AIG, Counter Intelligence Kashmir Singh.

Taking a serious view of the attack, the chief minister directed the jail minister and ADGP prisons to take all necessary steps to prevent the recurrence of such incidents in the future.

Amarainder Singh warned that such brazen violation of law and order, and laxity in prison security will not be tolerated.

Reacting to the demand of Dera followers for withdrawing the sacrilege case against Bittu, he said the law will take its own course as the final reports of investigation into the cases against him have been submitted in the court.

It was up to the court to take any decision on the way forward, he added.

Security in the state has been beefed up following the incident and all steps are being taken to check the spread of disinformation and rumour-mongering, the statement said.

The chief minister has ordered security agencies to take all possible measures to maintain peace and communal harmony in the state, it said.

Earlier on Monday, as a precautionary measure, police and paramilitary forces had carried out flag march in adjoining towns of Koktapura in Faridkot district.

Bittu was allegedly attacked by Gursewak Singh and Maninder Singh, who were lodged in the prison in a murder case. He was rushed to Nabha civil hospital near Patiala, where he was declared brought dead.

His body was brought to Kotkapura, where a large number of Dera followers gathered Sunday morning.

Bittu had been arrested from Palampur in Himachal Pradesh a year ago for allegedly desecrating the Guru Granth Sahib in Bargari in 2015.

The special investigation team (SIT) of the Punjab Police had named him as the key accused in the case. He was booked for various charges including allegedly hurting religious sentiments of the Sikhs and being involved in unlawful activities.

Bittu's body had been kept in 'Naam Charcha Ghar' (congregation/prayer centre) of the Dera Sacha Sauda sect at Kotkapura for nearly 35 hours before being cremated.

Kotkapura and many of its adjoining towns have a sizeable presence of Dera followers. Tight security measures were also in place across Punjab, including prayer centres in other places in the state.

Bittu's son, Arminder, had told reporters in that his father was killed "under a conspiracy" and also alleged his name was dragged into this case, and they wanted justice.

The attack had also evoked sharp reactions from the opposition, with SAD chief Sukhbir Singh Badal demanding an inquiry. His party's senior leader Balwinder Singh Bhunder claimed that if this was the state of jails in Punjab, then one could imagine the law and order situation.


(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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