Self-styled godman and Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, who is already serving a 20-year jail sentence for raping two of his disciples and a life term for a journalist's killing, was on Monday sentenced to life imprisonment for murder of a former sect manager nearly two decades back.
Special CBI court judge Sushil Garg in Haryana's Panchkula pronounced the verdict in a jam-packed court, sentencing him and four others for murdering Ranjit Singh, in 2002.
The CBI had sought the death penalty under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code for Ram Rahim, while the dera chief pleaded for mercy, appearing via video conference from Rohtak jail, where he is serving sentence in two cases of rape and for the murder of a journalist.
The others convicted for the crime were Krishan Lal, Jasbir Singh, Avtar Singh, and Sabdil. One more accused in the murder case had passed away in October last year.
The court also imposed a penalty of Rs 31 lakh on the godman, half of the amount will be given to the victim's family as compensation.
Victim's son Jagseer said the family finally got the justice, though after much delay. "My grandfather who fought the battle for justice of his son died in 2016. I was just eight years old when my father was murdered in a cold-blooded manner," he told the media.
"Today, after 19 years, my family can sleep in peace," he said.
Prime prosecution witness, Khatta Singh, a former driver of the sect chief, played a crucial role in the case by unfolding a conspiracy behind killing the sect manager.
Earlier, the CBI court had deferred the pronouncement of the quantum of sentence on October 12. They were convicted on October 8.
The self-styled godman has been undergoing a 20-year sentence at the high-security Sunaria jail in Rohtak, 250 kms from state capital Chandigarh, for raping his two disciples, and was sentenced to life for the murder of a journalist in 2002.
Ram Rahim, 52, attended hearings relating to the pronouncement of sentence virtually. He pleaded for mercy on the plea of the charitable works that the sect carried out when he was heading it.
Ranjit Singh, a former follower of Ram Rahim, was shot dead by four assailants on July 10, 2002, at his native Khanpur Kolian village in Kurukshetra district.
The CBI argument was that Ranjit Singh was murdered as Ram Rahim suspected that he was behind the circulation of an anonymous letter that revealed the sexual exploitation of woman followers at the dera.
The investigating agency opposed the dera chief's plea, saying the victim treated him as "god" and the accused committed offences against him. It said Ram Rahim had criminal antecedents and committed the offence in a cold-blooded manner.
The Punjab and Haryana HC had recently dismissed a plea seeking the case's transfer to another judge.
Ahead of the verdict pronouncement, local authorities imposed prohibitory orders in the town and in Sirsa, the headquarters of Dera Sacha Sauda, in view of the violence reported after his conviction in rape cases in 2017.
Ram Rahim's conviction on August 25, 2017, in raping his two disciples had led to violence in Panchkula and Sirsa, leaving 41 people dead and over 260 injured.
On January 17, 2019, a special CBI court in Panchkula also sentenced him and three others to life imprisonment for the murder of a journalist over 16 years ago.
Ram Rahim was patronised by political leaders and parties in Punjab and Haryana for nearly two decades due to his ability to influence the votes of his followers.