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Haryana, Punjab on high alert ahead of verdict in Dera chief Ram Rahim Singh case

LiveMint logoLiveMint 23-08-2017 PTI

Chandigarh: Haryana and Punjab were on Wednesday put on high alert and prohibitory orders imposed ahead of the court verdict in a sexual exploitation case against Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh with authorities not ruling out taking Army’s help to maintain law and order.

The Centre has also assured all possible help to the Punjab and Haryana governments to deal with any situation. “We are in regular touch with the governments of Punjab and Haryana. Whatever help is required, will be provided,” a home ministry spokesperson said in Delhi.

Security forces were carrying out flag marches at many sensitive places in both the states. Paramilitary forces have already reached Punjab and Haryana and many more are on way to sensitive places there. Terming the situation dynamic, Haryana Additional Chief Secretary (Home) Ram Niwas said the state has got eight additional companies of paramilitary forces and an additional 2,500 police personnel from internal sources have also been mobilised for deployment in different parts of the state.

Responding to reporters’ questions, he said, “The state government would also call in the Army, if necessary, impose curfew according to time and circumstances and initiate all steps required to maintain law and order in the state.” The state administration is continuously in touch with Dera followers for maintaining peace, Niwas said.

Dera followers have been assembling in large numbers at the sect’s Sector 23 based “Naam Charcha Ghar” (congregation/ prayer centre) in Panchkula to show their solidarity with the sect chief. With the arrival of Dera followers, including women, in Chandigarh’s neighbouring city Panchkula, the Union Territory has been declared “sensitive”. “One lakh ‘premis’ (dear followers) have already arrived in Panchkula,” Chandigarh DGP Tejinder Singh Luthra said and asserted that nobody will be allowed to disturb law and order.

He said elaborate security arrangements have been made with over 5,000 security personnel being deployed at sensitive and vulnerable points to maintain peace. Gauri Prashar Joshi, the Deputy Commissioner of Panchkula, which has been declared a highly sensitive zone, said there is a heavy deployment of police and paramilitary forces near the routes leading to the district court complex in Panchkula.

The Haryana government has directed that Deputy Commissioners, Sub Divisional Officers (Civil) and other Haryana Civil Services officers would not avail leave till further orders. All district administrations need to be in full strength, a spokesperson of the Haryana personnel department said, adding, “The leave, if already sanctioned, stands cancelled.” Haryana Health Department too has cancelled leave of all its medical and para-medical staff up to 30 August.

As a precautionary measure, educational institutes would remain closed in Panchkula district and its neighbouring city Chandigarh until Friday, officials said. The Haryana government said except for offices of essential services, August 24 and 25 would be observed as gazetted holidays in government offices, boards, corporations, and banks in Sectors 4, 5 and 6 of Panchkula only. Teaching work in all the universities and colleges in the state will remain suspended on 25 August, a spokesperson of Haryana’s Higher Education department said.

According to officials, interviews to be conducted by the state’s service selection board on 24 August and 25 have been rescheduled. In Punjab, all schools and colleges have been ordered to remain shut on Friday. A complete ban has been issued on carrying of firearms, with orders to shut down private gun houses selling arms and ammunition to license holders, a spokesperson said after a meeting convened by Chief Minister Amarinder Singh this evening to review the state’s security arrangements.

The chief minister also ordered withdrawal of 1,000 police personnel from VVIP security for deployment on field duty to strengthen the security blanket in the state, the spokesperson said. State-owned Punjab Roadways will not run its buses towards Sirsa, where the headquarter of Dera is located, from tomorrow, while PRTC will stop plying of buses towards Haryana on Friday.

The Haryana Roadways too have decided to suspend its bus service to Chandigarh and Panchkula depots for two days from tomorrow, a spokesperson of the transport department said. To keep a close vigil on law and order situation, security agencies in the two states and their joint capital Chandigarh will resort to videography and aerial surveillance using drones, officials said. The situation which is building up ahead of Friday’s verdict has also prompted several families in sensitive districts of the two states to reschedule the marriages which were slated to be solemnised on 25 August.

The Haryana government is also keeping a close eye on social media to prevent spread of rumours and Ram Niwas said the DCs and the SPs have been given the authority to monitor social media wherever required. Meanwhile, Dera Sacha Sauda sect head Gurmeet Ram Rahim took to Twitter to give a message of “selfless service and meditation” to his followers. “Selfless service, meditation and firm belief are the ornaments in spirituality,” he said in a tweet and also shared a link to a Facebook video of one of his discourses.

When asked if the Dera chief will appear before the court in Panchkula on Friday, a spokesperson of the sect said its head has always followed the law and will do so in future also. Akal Takht Jathedar Giani Gurbachan Singh, in Amritsar, asked Amarinder Singh to ensure law and order in Punjab. He also asked members of the Sikh community to maintain peace and harmony and keep strict vigil on all Gurdwaras round the clock to protect those from anti-social elements, who may take advantage of the situation.

Amid reports that the Dera followers could stock petrol, ‘lathis’ and other weapons at ‘naam charcha ghars’, Punjab Police have asked all its top ranking police officials to stay alert. Punjab DGP Suresh Arora, who yesterday made a whirlwind tour of Bathinda, Mansa, Moga, Patiala, Ludhiana, Fatehgarh Sahib and Mohali districts, on Wednesday visited Sangrur to check security arrangements. Various hotels and guest houses in tricity area of the two states comprising Panchkula, Chandigarh and Mohali are being checked by the security personnel.

Heavy police has been deployed in Bathinda, which shares its border with Sirsa -- the Dera headquarters in Haryana. The Dera head has had a run-in in the past with Sikh radicals who had accused him of having allegedly dressed up as the tenth Sikh master, Guru Gobind Singh, in 2007, following which Punjab had remained on boil for many days. The special CBI court in Panchkula will pronounce the judgment in sexual exploitation case against the Dera chief on 25 August and he has also been asked to appear in person before the court on the same day.

The case was registered 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 Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh. However, the Dera chief has denied these charges.

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