CHANDIGARH: The Punjab and Haryana High Court today came down heavily on Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar and Haryana Education Minister Ram Bilas Sharma for shielding Dera followers for the sake of political patronage.
The death toll in the violence and arson by the frenzied followers of Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, the head of Dera Sacha Sauda, rose to 36 with more deaths reported from Sirsa Civil Hospital.
The court, which had accused the government of conniving with the agitators yesterday, also slammed Sharma for giving a grant of Rs 51 lakh to the Dera recently.
There is a sea of difference between administrative and political decisions, the High Court said, and the administrative decisions were paralysed because of political considerations.
The bench comprising Justices SS Saron, Surya Kant and Avneesh Jhingan directed the Deputy Commissioners of Punjab and Haryana to provide it a list of Dera properties and asked them to invite through public notices claims for damages to property in the violence unleashed by Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh’s followers after he was convicted in a rape case yesterday.
The Dera has been directed not to sell or transfer its properties.
Shaking up the government for its laxity, the Bench asked the state government if it had any plans to sanitise the Dera Sacha Sauda (DSS). It also sought a status report on the deaths caused by the violence.
The Haryana government suspended the Deputy Commissioner of Police, Panchkula, saying that an order by him allowed the crowd build-up. The government also terminated the services of the state's Deputy Advocate General, Gurdas Salwara, for allegedly "accompanying" Dera Sacha Sauda chief yesterday after the verdict.
In the face of the failure of the state government to prevent the large-scale violence, the Court decided not to take any chances on Monday, August 28 when the quantum of sentence will be pronounced in the Ram Rahim rape verdict, and issued a notification that the hearing will be held in the Sunaria district jail of Rohtak, where the Dera chief is presently lodged, and not in Panchkula, the epicentre of violence yesterday, where the crowds had gathered.
An uneasy calm prevailed in Haryana and Punjab today as authorities watched anxiously for more trouble.
Here are the developments that took place through the day. (Read the highlights here)
18 columns of Army requisitioned for security in Rohtak are expected to arrive soon and hold a flag march, said Rohtak Deputy Commissioner Atul Kumar
Security beefed up ahead of Monday’s sentencing of Gurmeet Ram Rahim at Rohtak, said Haryana Chief Secretary DS Dhesi.
“No incident has occurred anywhere after 6.30 pm yesterday. As many as 101 companies of paramilitary have been deployed in the state; six columns of the Army have been deployed in Panchkula, and four in Sirsa. Curfew has been relaxed in Panchkula and Sirsa,’’ said Haryana DGP BS Sandhu.
Locals tense, stay indoors
People are scared to step out of their homes, as around 1,00,000 DSS followers are still camped out in Sirsa where the Dera’s headquarters is located, and an AK-47 was seized from a jawan of the Punjab Police force, tasked with protecting the people. Appeals made by the army and district authorities through loud speakers asking the crowds to disperse were to no avail.
DGP Sandhu said there was sufficient police and army deployment in Sirsa and that only about 3,000 followers of Ram Rahim were left in the Dera. Given the police’s and government’s earlier assurances, which meant nothing yesterday when over 30 people were killed, his words fell on deaf ears; the town stayed tense and people locked themselves indoors.
Authorities in both Punjab and Haryana sealed other dera of the DSS, named Naam Charcha Gharin in Malwa region of Punjab, where the sect has a lot of influence, apart from the branches in Kurukshetra and Hisar, Haryana.
Extent of yesterday’s violence
18 properties damaged, of which eight were in Panchkula. A total of 34 cases registered across the state, of which six are in Panchkula, four each in Sirsa and Karnal; 512 people arrested, said Sandhu.
Two cases of sedition registered against Dera followers, one AK47 rifle, one Mauser rifle, two other rifles and five pistols were seized from two Dera vehicles, apart from iron rods, sticks, hockey sticks and petrol bombs.
The mob had burnt 28 vehicles, including some government ones, besides setting fire to two government buildings — Income Tax and HARTRON offices. Six private shops, two other structures, including an ATM of HDFC Bank, were also set on fire.
Ram Rahim’s time in custody
Transported to district jail in Rohtak by helicopter for security concerns. Treated like any other inmate, claims police chief.
Ram Rahim gets same food and facilities as other inmates; no air-conditioned cell, says Sandhu
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