NEW DELHI / CHANDIGARH: The central government Wednesday stayed the hanging of Babbar Khalsa International terrorist Balwant Singh Rajoana for the Aug 31, 1995 assassination of then Punjab chief minister Beant Singh. The execution was scheduled for Saturday.
The development was revealed by Punjab Chief Minister Prakash Singh Badal and his deputy Sukhbir Singh Badal in New Delhi after their meeting with President Pratibha Patil to whom they submitted a petition seeking mercy for Rajoana.
The union ministry of home affairs (MHA), in a letter to Punjab's home secretary Wednesday (March 28), stated that the execution of Rajoana is stayed till the apex court's order on the appeal is received or the president decides on the mercy petition for Rajoana filed by the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC).
"As per the procedure regarding petitions of mercy in death sentence cases, the execution of Balwant Singh Rajoana is stayed till the order of the Supreme Court in the matter of Criminal Appeal No. 2277/2011 and 1464/2011 or till the order of the President of India on the said mercy petition, whichever is later," said MHA's joint secretary (judicial) J.L. Chugh said.
The Badal father-son duo had told reporters that they have a letter from the central government staying the hanging of Rajoana, convicted and sentenced to death by a Chandigarh court.
The central government's move comes after a tense build-up in Punjab in the last few days culminating into a bandh (shutdown) across the state Wednesday called by radical Sikh organisations.
Chief Minister Badal welcomed the decision to stay Rajoana's execution.
"We welcome the decision. We are committed to maintaining peace and law and order at all costs," he said.
Punjab Congress president Amarinder Singh also welcomed the move.
"This will go a long way in maintaining peace in the state," Amarinder Singh said in Chandigarh.
The stay on Rajoana's execution came on a day when Punjab saw a shutdown to protest the scheduled hanging. The bandh affected life in most parts of Punjab but the man facing death remained defiant.
Rajoana, lodged in Patiala's central jail, 80 km from Chandigarh, issued a letter through his sister Kamaldeep Kaur Wednesday appealing to people to maintain peace even after his death.
He said he will not submit any mercy petition to the president or prime minister to get his death sentence commuted, and added that he was waiting to die Saturday.
Quoting her brother's letter, Kamaldeep Kaur told media outside Patiala jail Wednesday: "My brother has appealed for peace. He said that he will not seek clemency."
The area around the prison came under heavy security cover, said Patiala police chief Gurpreet Singh Gill. Barricades were put up on roads leading to the complex.
On Wednesday, shops and commercial establishments were closed in most places across Punjab. Saffron colour flags were put up on buildings as well as houses and shops to portray defiance and protest marches were taken out in many places demanding clemency for Rajoana.
Educational institutions too were closed. There were fewer state transport and private buses on the roads.
But other traffic was normal on most national and state highways. Protesters did block some roads in Jalandhar, Ludhiana, Bathinda, Patiala and Amritsar for some time.
Additional Director General of Police S.K. Sharma said there was no major incident of violence.
Minor violence was reported from Patiala. There was tension at Lehra and Tapa towns in southwest Punjab as Rajoana supporters forced traders to close down their establishments.
In Patiala, a clash took place between two groups. In Jalandhar, police used batons to disperse a mob at Adda Hoshiarpur area as some people armed with swords tried to stop a train.
A clash was also reported in the industrial town of Phagwara, 120 km from here between two groups, forcing the police to intervene.
The call for the shutdown was given by Sikh organisations like Khalsa Action Committee, Dal Khalsa, and Akali Dal (Panch Pardhani). The head clergyman of the Akal Takht, the highest temporal seat of Sikh religion, had also appealed to the people to stay indoors.
"The bandh was complete across Punjab," Dal Khalsa spokesman Kanwarpal Singh told IANS.
A court in Chandigarh Tuesday directed that the BKI terrorist be hanged Saturday, for the high-profile assassination that took place some two years after a bloody decade-long Sikh separatist campaign was crushed in 1993 after the loss of some 25,000 lives.
In New York, Human Rights Watch urged the Indian government not to hang Rajoana, saying it was opposed in principle to capital punishment.