Haryana’s Education Minister Ram Bilas Sharma said Thursday that Dera Sacha Sauda followers were “simple, peace loving people” who may have gathered in Panchkula in huge numbers “but till now have not touched a single plant”. Sharma, who makes no secret of his proximity to Dera head Gurmeet Singh Ram Rahim, recently visited him at the Dera headquarters in Sirsa and handed over a cheque of Rs 51 lakh as a mark of his support.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Sharma said, “Itni sankhya mein log agar aayen hain to ye bhi to fact hai ki unhone abhi tak ek ped ya paudhe ko haath bhi nahi lagaya…(Even if they have turned up in huge numbers in Panchkula, the fact remains that till now they have not touched a single tree or a plant).”
Asked why then the Haryana government had felt it necessary to call in central paramilitary forces in apprehension of violence, the minister said, “We hope the followers maintain peace tomorrow. I believe all these 15 years that the case has been going on against Maharaj, he abides by law and has appeared also whenever asked… I am sure he will do the same tomorrow… moreover these people (Dera followers) have never indulged in any violence and have been law abiding..utpat or koi tod fod bhi nahi kiya unhone abhi tak…”
Sharma also said “it was the government’s duty to provide drinking water and ensure proper sanitation plans” to the thousands of people who had gathered.
Defending the decision to allow 1.5 lakh and more to gather in Panchkula – dera followers continued to stream in until late Thursday evening — a senior official said preventing the build-up was “next to impossible”.
Talking to The Indian Express, Haryana Additional Chief Secretary (Home) Ram Niwas said they coudn’t stop people. “ It is not possible to stop people who are coming by foot to enter a district. We cannot restrict them, that too when Panchkula is porous… it doesn’t have one closed border… it has several routes with different states adjoining borders. But we are all well prepared for the verdict day. “Asked why section 144 of CrPc had been imposed then, the Home Secretary maintained said it was only on the movement of weapons.
Asked why it had not been used to prevent assembly, for which it is mainly used, the Home Secretary said, “That you may ask the administration. How can I tell about it?”
A former Haryana Police chief said the police should have acted in time to prevent the build-up by stopping the flow at all the district borders. “The foremost thing was that they should not have allowed people to enter Panchkula, which led to this situation. The authorities should have sealed the borders totally,” the former officer said.