Amritpal Singh still eludes capture; NSA slapped on 5 of his aides

March 21,2023

Punjab Police Monday invoked the National Security Act (NSA) against five arrested associates of fugitive Khalistan sympathiser and self-proclaimed preacher Amritpal Singh, who eluded capture for the third successive day even as his uncle Harjit Singh — one of those booked under the stringent law — and aide Harpreet Singh surrendered in Jalandhar.

The duo gave themselves up after turning up at a police checkpoint in the Mehatpur-Shahkot area a little after Sunday midnight in the Mercedes that had been Amritpal’s getaway vehicle after he supposedly abandoned an Isuzu pickup truck at Salema village in the same district. Harjit was carrying a .32-bore licensed weapon and around Rs 1.2 lakh in cash.

The decision to slap the NSA on the five men, four of whom had been shifted to a jail in Assam's Dibrugarhon Sunday, was taken after leads emerged of foreign funding of Amritpal's allegedly subversive activities, hawala transfers and a possible link with Pakistani spy agency ISI.

Harjit was also flown to the Assam town, 440km from state capital Guwahati, hours after his surrender. Six more members of Amritpal's pro-Khalistan outfit Waris Punjab De are likely to be taken to Dibrugarh in the next 24 hours, deputy commissioner (Dibrugarh) Biswajit Pegu told TOI from the upper Assam town. Besides Harjit, the four being kept in a jail there are Daljeet Kalsi, Basant Singh, Gurmeet Singh Bhukhanwala and Bhagwant Singh, alias Pradhan Mantri Bajeke.

Section 5 of the NSA contains a provision to transfer suspects from one state to another to maintain peace and harmony. Under the NSA, there is no requirement for a police remand. The investigating agency is required to submit a report to an advisory board, which, after examining the facts and evidence, can extend custody for a maximum of one year with an extension every three months.

The police have registered six criminal cases against Amritpal and his aides so far on charges of "creating disharmony among classes, attempt to murder, attacking cops and preventing them from carrying out their duties", IGP (headquarters) Sukhchain Singh Gill said. The number of arrests as part of the crackdown on Waris Punjab De rose to 114 with Harjit and Harpreet's surrender.

IGP Gill said Amritpal had been trying to form an outfit christened "Anandpur Khalsa Fauj (AKF)". Some of the bulletproof jackets and rifles seized from those arrested during the crackdown since Saturday bear the initials "AKF". Ditto the gate to Amritpal's home in Jallupur Khera village of Amritsar district.

On allegations that Amritpal and his organisation may have been also involved in drugs smuggling, Gill said, “This is very preliminary…We have taken action against them for primarily disturbing the state's communal harmony. Every aspect of the investigation cannot be revealed as of now."

Amritpal's father Tarsem Singh contested the police's statement, saying stories were being "concocted" and "blown out of proportion to defame Amritpal".

As the hunt for the absconding Khalistan sympathiser continued amid protests from some quarters, the Punjab government extended the suspension of mobile internet and text messaging, excluding those for banking, till Tuesday noon. Gill said the decision to lift the mobile internet blockade would depend on the situation.

Twitter accounts of some journalists in Punjab were suspended and access to handles of a few Canadian Sikh politicians was restricted on grounds of their questioning the crackdown on Amritpal.

A Mohali-based lawyer filed a petition in the Punjab and Haryana high court, challenging the curbs as illegal, unconstitutional and in violation of Supreme Court judgments. The plea states that internet shutdowns can now only be ordered by the home secretary of the Union or state governments.

IGP Gill said criticism of the police for not initiating action against Amritpal and his aides after they laid siege to Ajnala police station on February 23 was unfair. "It takes time to collect evidence, examine facts and strategise before taking action," he said.

On how Amritpal could have fled when so many police vehicles were on his trail, Gill said the impression was that he would give himself up. "The reality is that he is still on the run and the police are making every effort to arrest him."