Haryana, Punjab on edge ahead of Dera chief sentencing

Authorities are geared up to prevent a repeat of the mayhem on Friday after the Dera chief was convicted of rape. Officials have started identifying Dera’s assets on High Court’s directions

PTI Photo by Kamal Singh
PTI Photo by Kamal Singh


Haryana and Punjab were on high alert today ahead of the Dera Sacha Sauda chief's sentencing, as officials warned that violent miscreants will be shot at sight, and described the security situation as “challenging.”

A multi-layer security cordon manned by police and 23 companies of paramilitary forces has been thrown in and around Rohtak and also around the Sunaria Jail where the sect leader, Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh is lodged. The Army has been kept on standby.

CBI Judge Jagdeep Singh will be flown to Rohtak where he will pronounce the sentence in the jail, expected to be handed out at around 2:30 pm.

Authorities are geared up to prevent a repeat of the mayhem on Friday by the followers of the 50-year-old sect chief after he was convicted of rape. The violence claimed 32 lives in Panchkula and six in Sirsa, besides leaving over 260 injured. Most of the dead were shot dead by police trying to quell the protesters who set fire to many vehicles and buildings.

Rohtak Deputy Commissioner Atul Kumar said police will not hesitate to open fire again at those spreading violence. “It is a challenging situation, but we are prepared”, Kumar told reporters.

“We are prepared to deal with any unscrupulous element who may try to create trouble ... if there is any such element who indulges in any act of violence endangering innocent lives, if he does not pay heed to warnings then shoot-at-sight will be used against him. Action will be taken as the situation demands,” he asserted.

He said the Rohtak administration and security personnel were dealing with a “dynamic and challenging situation”.

“We have clarity of thought, we are not confused. If we feel any person is endangering lives of innocent people and is causing damage to property, then shoot-at-sight will be used (to deal in such a situation),” he said. Haryana DGP B S Sandhu also said that “maintaining law and order is the top priority for the Haryana Police today.”

A special court room has been made within the Sunaria jail, Rohtak Range IG, Navdeep Singh Virk said. “The judge will be flown in by a special helicopter and will land in the helipad near the Sunaria jail” on the outskirts of Rohtak city, Virk said. He said the Haryana Police was fully geared to deal with any situation and police from neighbouring districts too has been deployed.

“We have also been provided 23 companies of paramilitary forces by the Central government. We have sufficient forces and we have deployed them. We are on our toes 24x7 and we are 100 per cent certain that there will be no untoward incident,” he said, adding the Army, however, will be on standby. He said it will be ensured that no Dera follower is allowed to enter Rohtak district or come near the jail.

The police have sealed 10 congregation centres of the Dera in Rohtak police range. In all, 103 such centres have been searched across Haryana. A sedition case has been filed against two close aides of the sect head after the violence in Panchkula on Friday.

Appealing to the people not to enter the district without any specific and urgent reason, Kumar, the Rohtak DC, said every person entering Rohtak was being checked.

He said prohibitory orders under Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), prohibiting assembly of five or more persons, and carrying of firearms and other weapons, were already in place in the district. All routes to the Sunaria jail in Rohtak, where the sect chief has been lodged, have been sealed.

The Dera head wields considerable political influence and counts political leaders from various parties among his fans, particularly during elections because of the vote bank he controls. He has lakhs of followers in northern India. Enraged by his conviction, which took place in Panchkula on Friday, the followers who had camped there for days went on a rampage, at first attacking media crews and their vehicles.

Police said a designated place has been earmarked for the media today to allow them to cover the court proceedings today. However, they will not be allowed into the special court in the jail where the sentencing will take place.

Sirsa, the sect headquarters, meanwhile continues to be under curfew. Police have registered 52 cases in connection with Friday's violence which left a trail of destruction, particularly in Panchkula and Sirsa in Haryana, and arrested 926 people.

As a precautionary measure, schools and other educational institutions will remain shut in Haryana on Monday while these will also remain closed in sensitive districts in Punjab. In Haryana, curfew now remains clamped in Sirsa only, and has been lifted from other places including Panchkula and Kaithal.

Train operations in Punjab and Haryana, severely affected by violence in two states, have been restored, except for the Delhi-Rohtak-Bathinda section, a railway ministry statement said in New Delhi.

Mobile Internet services will remain suspended in Haryana and Punjab till 11:30 am on Tuesday. Internet leased lines on the premises of the Dera Sacha Sauda headquarters at Sirsa will also be suspended till then, officials said.

At many sensitive places in Punjab too, security forces conducted flag marches and kept a tight vigil in sensitive areas.

Punjab was maintaining a vigil in sensitive districts falling in the Malwa region including Bathinda, Sangrur, Moga and Patiala, where there is sizeable presence of Dera followers.

Meanwhile, authorities in Punjab and Haryana have started identifying movable and immovable assets of the cult on the directions of the high court, officials said. Banks have been asked to provide details of accounts of the Dera.

The Punjab and Haryana High Court has asked the two states to submit by Tuesday a list of Dera's properties and assets which can be attached in case it is found that they were responsible for property damage after Singh's conviction.

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