Supreme Court Rejects Pleas for Transfer of Criminal Cases on Sacrilege of Sikhs’ Holy Book Out of Punjab [25-11-2020)

The Supreme Court Wednesday refused to transfer criminal cases, related to alleged sacrilege of holy book ‘Shri Guru Granth Sahibji’ of Sikhs, against some followers of ‘Dera Sacha Sauda’ out of Punjab, saying the transfer of trials from one state to another would inevitably reflect on the credibility of the state’s judiciary. A bench of Justice Hrishikesh Roy dismissed six transfer petitions filed by Jatinderveer Arora and others seeking shifting of criminal cases, pending in courts of Bhatinda, Moga and Faridkot districts of Punjab, to nearby states such as Delhi or Chandigarh. It was alleged that as the matters relate to alleged sacrilege of the holy book in different places in Punjab in 2015, there was deep anguish and bitterness amongst a particular religious group, who form majority in Punjab and hence the trials against the accused, members of the ‘Dera Sacha Sauda’ sect, may be be biased.

The top court, while dealing with the facts of the cases, said, transfer of trial from one state to another would inevitably reflect on the credibility of the State’s judiciary. Except for compelling factors and clear situation of deprivation of fair justice, the transfer power should not be invoked. The present bunch of cases are not perceived to be amongst such exceptional categories. It referred to the proposition of law in several judgements on transfer of cases from one place to another and said that the court must be fully satisfied about existence of such factors which would make it impossible to conduct a fair trial.

General allegation of surcharged atmosphere is not however sufficient. The apprehension of not getting a fair and impartial trial cannot be founded on certain grievances or convenience of the accused but the reasons have to be more compelling than that. No universal Rules can however be laid down for deciding transfer petitions and each one has to be decided in the backdrop of that case alone. One must also be mindful of the fact that when trial is shifted out from one state to another, it would tantamount to casting aspersions on the court, having lawful jurisdiction to try the case, the judgement said. It said that the power under the CrPC to transfer the case must be exercised sparingly and only in deserving cases when fair and impartial trial uninfluenced by external factors, is not at all possible. If the Courts are able to function uninfluenced by public sentiment, shifting of trial would not be warranted, it held. It considered the submission of Punjab government that although petitioners speak of surcharged atmosphere and threat to their life in Punjab, but, after getting bail, they continue to reside and conduct their affairs in their respective place without any threat or hindrance in the state. The top court said the plea of surcharged atmosphere in Punjab was not borne out by the corresponding reaction of the accused persons who are 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. For this reason, the court is inclined to believe that the atmosphere in the State does not justify shifting of the trial venue to another state, the judgment said. The apex court noted the assurance of the Punjab government that it would make all arrangement to ensure safe conduct of proceedings at the trial courts and also provide adequate security to the accused and their associates.


26 Nov 2020