The Army was called out in Panchkula on Thursday, where a CBI court is set to deliver its verdict in a rape case against Dera Sacha Sauda head Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh on Friday, even as large parts of Haryana, Punjab and Chandigarh remained in a virtual lock-down mode.
In Sirsa also, where the Dera Sacha Sauda is based, army was called out to ensure peace. A curfew was imposed in the highly sensitive Sirsa town and three neighbouring villages on Thursday, officials said.Meanwhile, thousands of ‘premis’, as Dera followers are known, continued to flock to Panchkula for a glimpse of their Pita ji, posing a tough challenge for the security agencies.
The Dera Sacha Sauda followers, estimated to be over 150,000, camped in parks, on the road in Panchkula to show solidarity with their icon. However, their whopping numbers numbers created a security nightmare.
The inability of the Manohar Lal Khattar government in Haryana to stop the massive build up earned it a rap on Thursday from the Punjab and Haryana High Court which made it clear it would not allow a repeat of violence witnessed during last year’s Jat agitation when several people were killed. The court, which was hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by a Panchkula resident, warned that it could even take action against the Haryana DGP if proper security arrangements were not made. The Court also asked the Centre to provide adequate forces for the maintenance of law and order.
In neighbouring Punjab, Chief Minister Amariner Singh authorised the state DGP Suresh Arora to impose curfew, if necessary, to maintain law and order.
Fearing trouble, especially if the verdict goes against the controversial Dera chief, thousands of jawans, including 15,000 paramilitary troops, have been deployed in sensitive areas across Punjab and Haryana. Dera Sacha Sauda has a huge following in both the states, which are on a high alert.
Mobile internet services were suspended for 72 hours in both the states and their joint capital Chandigarh while authorities are keeping a close watch on social media posts also, officials said.
However, in what appeared to be some relief for a stretched administrative machinery, Ram Rahim Singh said he would appear in person before the special CBI court tomorrow while appealing to his followers to maintain peace. “I have always respected the law. Even though I am having a backache, still abiding by law, I will go to court (tomorrow). I have full faith in God. Everyone should maintain peace,” the sect chief tweeted.
The sexual exploitation case was registered against the Dera chief in 2002 by the CBI on the directions of the Punjab and Haryana High Court after anonymous letters were circulated about the alleged sexual exploitation of two ‘sadhvis’ (female followers) by Ram Rahim Singh. The Dera chief, however, has denied these charges. Apart from the Army, which has been called out in Sirsa and Panchkula and is on the standby in other areas, the Centre has rushed as many as 150 companies of paramilitary forces to Punjab and Haryana.
“The central government has assured all possible help to the two state governments in dealing with any situation as a large number of followers of the Dera chief have started arriving in Panchkula, Chandigarh and nearby areas,” said another home ministry official.
Flag marches were carried out by security forces in Panchkula, Sirsa, Hissar and other places while many hospitals were also put on alert as a precautionary measure, the official said.
The police were keeping a close watch on social media, particularly WhatsApp groups, Facebook and Twitter, and have asked people not to spread rumours, he said.
Meanwhile in Chandigarh, a decision to suspend mobile Internet services was taken in a coordination committee meeting chaired by Punjab Governor and UT Administrator, V P Singh Badnore.
“Mobile Internet and data services have been suspended for 72 hours in Punjab, Haryana and UT Chandigarh with immediate effect,” Haryana Additional Chief Secretary (Home) Ram Niwas said.
A notification in this regard was being issued, he added.
Niwas said that the ministry of railways had been requested to immediately stop the train movement towards Chandigarh for two days.
Similarly, buses of Haryana Roadways coming to Chandigarh and Panchkula had already been stopped for two days, he added added.
A joint control room of Haryana and Punjab would be set up in sector-9, Chandigarh where a police officer each from both the states would be deployed for better coordination, he said.