The Haryana government Thursday imposed curfew in Sirsa from 10 pm, suspended mobile internet services, except voice calls, and it plans to clear out tens of thousands of people assembled in Panchkula ahead of the Friday verdict in a rape case against Dera Sacha Sauda head Gurmeet Ram Rahim, who in turn released a video late evening asking his followers to maintain peace and return to their homes. The Army has been called out in Sirsa, which is the headquarters of Dera Sacha Sauda.
Haryana’s Director-General of Police B S Sandhu announced the decisions at a news conference on Thursday evening, hours after the Punjab and Haryana High Court pulled up the government for not imposing Section 144 CrPc correctly to prevent the huge gathering of followers in Panchkula, where the CBI court is expected to pronounce its verdict at 2.45 pm.
“Curfew has been imposed in Sirsa from 10 pm tonight. It shall remain in force till further orders. We advise people to stay indoors. Also, the Army has been called in and shall be deployed across Sirsa tonight,” said Prabhjot Singh, Deputy Commissioner, Sirsa.
The court complex has been turned into a fortress with four-tier security arrangements comprising police and paramilitary forces. The case, in which Ram Rahim is accused of raping two of his women followers, came to trial in 2008. On the last date of hearing last week, the CBI court asked Ram Rahim to be present in court at 2.45 pm on Friday. Since he is a Z+ protectee, he will appear in the court under a tight police security cover.
But his travel by road from Sirsa to the Panchkula courtroom is fraught with challenges for the police. His followers are expected to throng the entire 250-km stretch of the state highway. The government has deployed more than 20 companies of paramilitary forces along this route.
Sources said top state officials were exploring the possibility of airlifting Ram Rahim from Sirsa to Panchkula to avoid chaos. The district administrations of Sirsa, Hisar, Fatehabad, Ambala and Panchkula have been placed on high alert. “The route and mode by which the Dera chief will be produced in the court cannot be divulged because of security issues,” said Haryana police chief Sandhu.
According to intelligence agencies, there are around 600-700 armed men were camping inside the dera’s headquarters in Sirsa. The district administration of Sirsa had asked people with valid armed licences to deposit their firearms at the nearest police station. A senior state government officer said only 60 per cent of such weapons were deposited.
The Punjab government, like Haryana, has suspended mobile Internet services, including 2G, 3G, 4G, CDMA and GPRS, all SMS services and all dongle services provided on mobile networks, for the next three days.
Apprehending that it would need to take large number of people into custody on Friday, the Haryana government has declared the Chaudhary Tau Devi Lal Stadium Complex in Panchkula, and Dalbir Singh Indoor Stadium in Sirsa as special jails with immediate effect.
The Haryana government has also set up a state riot control centre at the police headquarters in Panchkula. “Anybody who has any information about law and order or riots or requires police assistance can contact the State Riot Control Centre on the phone numbers 0172-2587905, Fax No. 0172-2587906. Apart from this, they can also contact the phone numbers 0172-2587901 up to 2587904 or 100. Information provided by them would be kept secret,” a state government’s spokesperson said.
Meanwhile, the high court said Thursday there was “complete collusion” between the Haryana government and the Dera followers, after the state advocate-general told the court there was a “clerical mistake” in the Section 144 order passed by officials.
The high court has constituted a full bench to monitor the situation. “The State of Haryana and the District Police Administration shall act firmly to ensure that the persons who have gathered at Panchkula would return, besides, prevent and ensure that the crowd does not further swell,” said the bench of acting Chief Justice S S Saron, Justice Surya Kant and Justice Avneesh Jhingan.
Hearing a PIL filed by a Panchkula-based lawyer on the presence of thousands of Dera followers in the city, the High Court said the perusal of the orders under Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure passed by the Haryana government clearly shows that there is no prohibition whatsoever of the assembly of five or more persons at any point of time.
“We want preventive action and it is visible in none of the state’s orders. It is really disheartening. The same thing happened during the Jat agitation. You are encouraging them. Where is the order prohibiting the assembly of five and more? We asked you to get the order. These are the basic preventive measures even for a simple law and order problem. You then cry before the Centre on the gravity of the situation but who has created the gravity,” the bench said.
Meanwhile, Gurmeet Ram Rahim also released a brief video message late evening, asking his followers to maintain law and order. “Those Dera lovers who have reached Panchkula should return to their homes. I have to listen to the verdict and I will go there. We all must respect the law and maintain peace,” Rahim is saying in the video.
Earlier in the day, the HC had come down heavily on his counsels for the prevailing situation in Panchkula and asked them to give an undertaking that a public message would be released asking the followers to return to their homes.