Current situation in Punjab; reports of militant activity; police procedures; supervision of the police and avenues of redress for persons alleging police misconduct (January 1999 - May 2000) [IND34468.EX]

This Extended Response provides information concerning the current situation in Punjab, including information regarding militant activity, police procedures, supervision of the police and avenues of redress for persons alleging police misconduct for the period between January 1999 and May 2000. This Extended Response is intended to update, and should be read in conjunction with, Extended Responses to Information Requests IND30759.EX of 12 January 1999, IND30758.EX of 10 December 1998 and IND26376.EX of 17 February 1997. A number of non-documentary sources contacted by the Research Directorate did not respond within the time constraints of this Extended Response.

Extent of militant activity in Punjab

Infrequent reports of militant activities and arrests of suspected militants continue to appear in the Indian media. The following information is based on a survey of major Indian news sources during the relevant timeframe, in particular the Chandigarh Tribune. It is not meant to be an exhaustive review, but rather is intended to provide an overview of the frequency, or infrequency, of reporting on militant activity.

In January 1999 police in Punjab claimed to have arrested four members of Babbar Khalsa International (BKI) who were allegedly plotting the assassination of Indian Home Minister Lal Krishna Advani and other public figures, including former Punjab police chief K.P.S. Gill (BBC 24 Jan. 1999; Daily News 25 Jan. 1999; Hong Kong Standard 25 Jan. 1999). Additional arrests of alleged BKI members were reported in the period between July 1999 and February 2000 (Tribune 3 July 1999b; ibid. 20 Sept. 1999; ibid. 27 Nov. 1999; ibid. 20 Jan. 2000a; ibid. 21 Jan. 2000a; ibid. 14 Feb. 2000; Times of India 26 Feb. 2000).

According to the Madras-based daily The Hindu, two members of the Khalistan Liberation Force (KLF), Manjinder Singh Issi and Sukhjinder Singh, surrendered to Punjab police in March 1999 after six years in hiding (5 Mar. 1999). According to the report, "[t]he surrender of Issi is believed to be a major blow to any attempt of revival of militancy in Punjab. The [police] statement claimed that Issi had appealed to all his accomplices to give up the path of violence and join the national mainstream" (ibid.).

Other reports refer to arrests of members of the Khalistan Commando Force (KCF) (Tribune 20 Jan. 2000b; ibid. 2 Sept. 1999), the Khalistan Zindabad Force (ibid. 17 Mar. 2000; ibid. 14 Nov. 1999) and a new group called the Komagatamaru Dal of Khalistan (ibid. 21 Nov. 1999). In the period between January 1999 and May 2000, several reports refer to the police capture of explosive materials allegedly destined for, or in the possession of, Punjab militants (BBC 24 Jan. 1999; Deccan Herald 28 July 1999; The Pioneer 23 Aug. 1999; Tribune 17 Mar. 2000; ibid. 21 Nov. 1999). However, during the same period, only three reports of bombings linked to pro‑Khalistan militants could be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate (The Pioneer 3 July 1999; Tribune 14 Nov. 1999; Hindustan Times 28 Feb. 2000). A March 2000 bombing in Punjab of a bus travelling from Jammu to Delhi, which resulted in nine deaths, was attributed to Kashmiri militants (BBC 3 Mar. 2000).

Overall, however, sources indicate that the situation in Punjab is one of relative calm: Punjab Chief Minister Prakash Singh Badal speaking in December 1999, stated that the continuation ofpolice districts in Punjab would be reviewed in light of the absence of militant activity, claiming "that there was complete normalcy in the state" (Tribune 8 Dec. 1999).

In March and April 2000 a delegation of the Danish Immigration Service (DIS) undertook a fact-finding mission to Punjab which included interviews with human rights lawyers, members of non-governmental organizations and government officials. In correspondence with the Research Directorate dated 29 May 2000, a member of the Danish delegation made the following observations with respect to the state of militancy in Punjab:

Most of the sources we spoke to during our mission agreed that the security situation in Punjab today has considerably improved and that the conflict between the various groups has calmed down. There were, however, different opinions on whether the militant groups are still operating in Punjab, but it was a common understanding that to the extent the groups are still operating, the activities of the groups are very limited. [….]

According to the information received, incidents such as bomb blasts in busses and trains still occur in Punjab now and then. According to our sources such incidents occur all over India, and generally there is more violence in other parts of India than in Punjab today. No groups will take the responsibility for such blasts, but officially India will often blame the Pakistan ISI ….

According to Rajesh Chhabra, Department of Home Affairs and Justice, Punjab, it [has happened] that persons in Punjab have [been caught] with explosives/RDX which according to him are smuggled in from Pakistan on its way to Kashmir. Over the last 2-3 years there have been 3 bomb blasts in Punjab, but the bombs have been on busses starting from Jammu-Kashmir. There have not been any bomb blasts in the villages of Punjab within the last 2-3 years and no militant activities in Punjab since 1991 except the killing of Chief Minister Beant Singh in 1995 (DIS  29 May 2000).

Since April 1999, numerous editorials in South Asian newspapers have discussed the possibility of a revival of militancy in Punjab. Those appearing in Indian newspapers frequently assert that Pakistan's Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) or other Pakistan‑supported organizations are responsible for the threatened revival, providing financial and operational backing (The Pioneer 21 Apr. 1999; ibid. 3 July 1999; ibid. 23 Aug. 1999; The Hindustan Times 26 June 1999; The Tribune 24 Jan. 2000; ibid. 2 Sept. 1999; ibid. 3 July 1999a; Deccan Herald 28 July 1999).

According to an anonymous senior police official cited in the Chandigargh Tribune, many militants have wearied of the separatist movement but are being pressured by their funders outside India to "show some kind of activities…since militancy has become more of a profitable business for them as they get funds and donations in its name" (31 Mar. 2000).

However, according to the Islamabad-based The News, in 1999 it was the pro‑Khalistan groups themselves that were "approaching anti-India international circles all over the world to secure financial and material help as they thought the time was ripe to re-energise the Khalistan movement" (22 June 1999).

On the question of whether militants still seek temporary shelter in people's houses, the member of the Danish delegation stated that they did not receive any current reports of this practice:

According to our sources, this was a "past event" which occurred with the involvement of the police itself, i.e. the police would send an "informant" to the house to ask for shelter under the pretext of being a militant. Following this, the police would offer protection for a bribe (ibid.).

Recent reports regarding police practices and human rights conditions in Punjab

Reports regarding police practices in Punjab between January 1999 and May 2000 are scarce among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate. An October 1999 Tribune report alleges that police brutality and torture are still common in Punjab, stating that 10 persons had died in police custody in 1998 and providing details of two 1999 custodial deaths (4 Oct. 1999). In December 1999 it was reported that the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) had formulated guidelines for the police in response to an increase in the number of complaints regarding the abuse of police powers (ibid. 18 Dec. 1999).

The member of the Danish delegation to Punjab made the following observations with respect to arrest procedures:

A number of sources informed us that the police are still arresting people and accusing them on false grounds. The authorities will often refer to illegal possession of explosives (RDX) under "The Explosive Act of 1884" under which police can arrest a person without a warrant - or they will refer to illegal possession of narcotics. Arrest and detention is done to obtain bribes. Police wages are low and the police in Punjab receive fewer resources than they did in the 1980s. Receiving bribes is a way to increase income. Very few of the accused people are convicted.

Many of the interviewed sources agreed that arrest is no longer performed under the TADA [Terrorism and Disruptive Activities Act]. On the other hand, some of the sources, i.e. Jaspal Singh Dhillon, Human Rights and Democracy Forum and Lawyer Navkiran Singh informed the delegation that there are still persons arrested under the TADA by reference to complicity in on-going cases under the TADA. Jaspal Singh Dhillon was of the opinion that 90% of the detained persons in Punjab are innocent.

Jaspal Singh (retired judge at Delhi High Court) informed the delegation that conditions in Punjab have improved but people are still complaining that the police are raising false cases although the number of such complaints are smaller than previously. Jaspal Singh was of the opinion that the police have an interest in maintaining an atmosphere of insecurity among the population which will create a platform for asking for bribes from people (DIS 29 May 2000).

On the subject of the harassment of family members, the member of the Danish delegation stated:

Rajesh Chhabra, Department of Home Affairs & Justice, Punjab informed the delegation that family members who are hiding or in other ways assisting terrorists may have problems with the police.

Ravi Nair, SAHRDC [South Asia Human Rights Documentation Centre], informed the delegation that family members of suspected militants risk having problems with the police. According to Ravi Nair it is a general trend for all over India that family members are at risk if the person searched for is not available.

Lawyer Navkiran Singh informed the delegation that family members of Khalistan supporters will not be at risk of false accusation. They will, however, risk being interrogated about the whereabouts of the wanted person. For this reason family members of wanted persons will also be on the list of the police.

Jaspal Singh Dhillon informed the delegation that spouses and children of wanted persons risk being beaten by the police in order to obtain information about the whereabouts of the wanted person. If the police can not get the person, the family will be harassed (ibid.).

On the subject of encounters, the member of the Danish delegation stated:

The Danish mission did not receive any information on open gun battles/encounters between the police and militants, and according to the general information received on the security situation in Punjab today, it is unlikely that such encounters still occur (ibid.).

Neither Country Reports 1999 nor Human Rights Watch Annual Report 2000 contain any references to "encounters" or to other forms of police misconduct in Punjab in 1999, although extensive information regarding encounters in other states including Jammu and Kashmir and Andhra Pradesh appears in both reports.

According to an April 2000 Amnesty International report on human rights activists at risk in India, human rights defenders in Punjab are subjected to harassment by the authorities:

Defence of human rights in Punjab is still viewed with suspicion by the state. Although no case of "disappearance" or killing of a human rights defender has been reported since the "disappearance" of Jaswant Singh Khalra in 1996, a large number of human rights defenders continue to dedicate their efforts to uncovering the fate of those who remain "disappeared", by campaigning for truth, justice and reparation and providing a unique and important historical record of past violations, and receive harassment and intimidation for this work (AI Apr. 2000a).

In an accompanying Amnesty International document with information on Appeal Cases, reference is made to specific incidents between July and December 1998 (AI Apr. 2000b). In several of the incidents it is alleged that false criminal charges were registered against activists and in one case there is reference to charges under the Arms Act and Explosives Act (ibid.). No information concerning treatment of human rights defenders or regarding the general human rights situation in Punjab after December 1998 appears in the report.

Police accountability and redress for victims of police misconduct

According to the member of the Danish delegation, several potential avenues of redress exist for persons alleging police misconduct, although the effectiveness of these avenues is uncertain:

There are different procedures for raising cases including violations of human rights performed by the police. Cases can be raised by district courts, high courts or at the State Human Rights Commission.

One of the overall complaints in this regard raised by our sources, was the general impunity for police officers. Often the police will offer payment of compensation to victims of police violations and in this way the police will avoid being convicted in court cases (DIS 29 May 2000).

The issue of impunity in Punjab was the subject of an August 1999 Amnesty International report, which was critical of the decision of the National Human Rights Commission to restrict its investigation of disappearances in Punjab to cases of illegal cremation in three police districts, notwithstanding the discretion granted by an Indian Supreme Court order to launch a far more comprehensive investigation (AI Aug. 1999). The April 2000 Amnesty International report regarding human rights defenders in India expressed further concerns regarding the inadequacy of access to remedies for victims of police misconduct. The report makes specific reference to a December 1999 court order restricting the capacity of the People's Commission:

The Punjab Peoples' Commission was established in reaction to the failure of the state to provide redress to victims of human rights violations where hundreds of "disappearances" took place alongside deaths in custody, torture including rape, illegal detention and extra-judicial execution and where human rights defenders often themselves became the victims of human rights violations. Human rights defenders in Punjab have become entirely demoralised by this frustrated search for redress (AI April 2000a).

These criticisms notwithstanding, several avenues exist for persons seeking redress. In August 1999, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) ordered compensation of 50,000 rupees (CAN$16,850) paid to the family of a man who had died in 1994 while in the custody of the Punjab police and also requested a "high-level inquiry into the case" (Aug. 1999). In July 1999 the NHRC requested that the Punjab government order the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to inquire into the death of a member of the youth wing of the Akali Dal in an alleged "encounter" in 1997 (ibid. July 1999). 

An official of the Punjab State Human Rights Commission (Punjab SHRC) stated that 60 percent of the complaints it had received were against the police (Tribune 23 Dec. 1999; ibid. 21 Jan. 2000b). In January 2000 it was reported that the caseload of the Punjab SHRC had expanded in a three year period from 90 cases in its first year, to over 2,100 cases and an official claimed that over 60 percent of cases were settled within four to six months (ibid.).

Impunity for those involved in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots remains a significant issue (Tribune 1 Nov. 1999). In December 1999 and January 2000 it was reported that a new commission had been proposed to enquire into the riots (ibid. 9 Dec. 1999; ibid. 24 Jan. 2000). On 10 May 2000, the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs announced that it had appointed a Commission of Inquiry, which would examine, among other issues, "abuse of authority, remissness and apathy of law enforcement agencies and those who were in a position to exercise control over them" (MHA 10 May 2000).

Also in May 2000, Minister of Home Affairs Advani stated that the government, in the wake of the release of Kashmiri leaders of the All-Party Hurriyat Conference, would review the cases of TADA and National Security Act (NSA) detainees in Punjab (Tribune 15 May 2000; Hindustan Times 15 May 2000; Times of India 15 May 2000; Indian Express 16 May 2000). However, several days later the Tribune reported that senior Punjab government and police officials expressed surprise at the Minister's announcement, indicating that there was an ongoing review of TADA detainees in Punjab (17 May 2000). According to the Tribune report, 550 cases had been reviewed since 1994, leading to the release of 262 persons (ibid.).

This Extended Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Extended Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum.

Amnesty International (AI). April 2000a. ASA 20/08/00. Persecuted for Challenging Injustice: Human Rights Defenders in India. [Accessed 29 May 2000]

_____. April 2000b. ASA 20/14/00. Persecuted for Challenging Injustice: Human Rights Defenders in India Appeal Cases.   [Accessed 24 May 2000]

_____. August 1999. ASA 20/24/99. India: A Vital Opportunity to End Impunity in Punjab. [Accessed 29 May 2000]

BBC. 3 March 2000. "Nine Die in India Bus Blast." [Accessed 23 May 2000]

_____. 24 January 1999. "India Police Say Plot to Kill Home Minister Foiled." [Accessed 23 May 2000]

Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1999. 2000. United States Department of State. [Accessed: 19 May 2000]

Daily News [Colombo]. 25 January 1999. "Plot to Assassinate Indian Home Minister Foiled." [Accessed 25 January 1999]

Deccan Herald [Bangalore, Internet edition]. 28 July 1999. "Pakistan's ISI Trying to Revive Militancy in Punjab." (FBIS-NES-199-0728 28 July 1999/WNC)

Danish Immigration Service (DIS). 29 May 2000. Correspondence with member of Danish delegation.

The Hindu [Madras, Internet edition]. 5 March 1999. "2 Top Pro-Khalistan Militants Surrender." [Accessed 24 May 2000]

The Hindustan Times [New Delhi, Internet edition] 15 May 2000. "Govt May Review Cases of Punjab Militants: Advani." [Accessed 15 May 2000]

_____. 28 February 2000. "8 Hurt in Paharganj Blast." [Accessed 15 May 2000]

_____. 26 June 1999. "Pak Trying to Revive Militancy in Punjab." [Accessed 24 May 2000]

Hong Kong Standard [Internet edition].25 January 1999. "Sikhs Held for Advani Death Plot." [Accessed 25 Jan. 2000]

Human Rights Watch (HRW). 2000. Human Rights Watch World Report 2000. [Accessed 19 May 2000]

Indian Express [Bombay, Internet edition]. 16 May 2000. "Centre Contemplating release of Punjab Militants." [Accessed 16 May 2000]

Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), India. 10 May 2000. "Commission to Inquire into 1984 Anti-Sikh Riots." [Accessed 15 May 2000]

National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) [India]. August 1999. Newsletter. [Accessed 18 May 2000]

The News [Islamabad, Internet edition]. 22 June 1999. "Indian Terrorists Watched Following Kargil." (FBIS-NES-1999-0622 22 June 1999/WNC)

_____. July 1999. Newsletter. [Accessed 18 May 2000]

The Pioneer [Delhi]. 23 August 1999. "Indian Daily Welcomes Strategy Taken Against Terrorism." (FBIS-NES-1999-0823 23 Aug. 1999/WNC)

_____. 3 July 1999. "Militant Organizations Trying to Regroup in Punjab." (FBIS‑NES‑1999-0703 3 July 1999/WNC)

_____. 21 April 1999. "Daily Sees Signs of Revival of Terrorism in Punjab." (FBIS‑NES‑1999-0421 21 Apr. 1999/WNC)

Times of India [New Delhi, Internet edition]. 15 May 2000. "Govt May Free Jailed Punjab Militants." [Accessed 15 May 2000]

_____. 26 February 2000. "Babbar Khalsa Militant, Aide Brought to Punjab." [Accessed 15 May 2000]

Tribune [Chandigarh, Internet edition]. 17 May 2000. Gobind Thukral. "Punjab In No Mood to Free Prisoners." [Accessed 17 May 2000]

_____. 15 May 2000. "Centre May Release Punjab Militants." [Accessed 15 May 2000]

_____31 March 2000. Varinder Singh. "Ultras Fed Up With Militancy?" [Accessed 4 Apr. 2000]

_____. 17 March 2000. "3 Punjab Ultras Held, RDX Seized." [Accessed 22 Mar. 2000]

_____. 14 February 2000. "Panel Refutes DGP's  Claim on Arrests." [Accessed 14 Feb. 2000]

_____. 24 January 2000. Gobind Thukral. "Militants Regrouping Under ISI Tutelage." [Accessed 24 Jan. 2000]

_____. 22 January 2000. "Experts Hail New Panel on '84 Riots." [Accessed 24 Jan. 2000]

_____. 21 January 2000a. "5 Babbar Khalsa Men Held in Gujarat." [Accessed 24 Jan. 2000]

_____. 21 January 2000b. "Quick Dispensation 'Attracts' Litigants." [Accessed 24 Jan. 2000]

_____. 20 January 2000a. "Babbar Khalsa Associates Held." [Accessed 20 Jan. 2000]

_____. 20 January 2000b. "Two KCF Men Arrested." [Accessed 20 Jan. 2000]

_____. 23 December 1999. "60 Percent Complaints Against Police: Rights Panel." [Accessed 24 Dec. 1999]

_____. 18 December 1999. Gautam Dheer. "NHRC Check on Abuse of Power by Police." [Accessed 22 Dec. 1999]

_____. 9 December 1999. "Another Panel on '84 Riots?" [Accessed 10 Dec. 1999]

_____. 8 December 1999. Sushil Goyal. "Police Districts May Be Disbanded." [Accessed 8 Dec. 1998]

_____. 27 November 1999. "2 Babbar Khalsa Militants Held." [Accessed 1 Dec. 1999]

_____. 21 November 1999. "Attempt to revive Militancy Foiled." [Accessed 2 Dec. 1999]

_____. 14 November 1999. "KZF Behind Blast, Says Punjab DGP." [Accessed 15 Nov. 1999]

_____. 1 November 1999. "Expedite Trial in Riot Cases: Sikh Leaders." [Accessed 1 Nov. 1999]

_____. 4 October 1999. Gobind Thukral. "Brutal Instant Methods." [Accessed 7 Oct. 1999]

_____. 20 September 1999. Varinder Walia. "2 'Human Bombs' Surrender." [Accessed 21 Sept. 1999]

_____. 2 September 1999. R. Suryamurthy. "ISI Steps Up Arms, RDX Flow." [Accessed 2 Sept. 1999]

_____. 3 July 1999a. Gobind Thukral. "Militants Trying to Regroup: Police." [Accessed 5 July 1999]

_____. 3 July 1999b. "BKI Militant Arrested." [Accessed 5 July 2000]