The Punjab and Haryana High Court today said the mayhem caused by followers of self-styled godman Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh last Friday was a “war-like situation” which had to be tackled accordingly and gave a slew of directions in the matter. The court directed Punjab and Haryana governments to set up Special Investigation Teams (SITs) of three officers, headed by an officer not below the rank of an Additional Director General of Police (ADGP), to investigate all the cases registered at various places in connection with the Dera violence.
The bench, comprising acting Chief Justice S S Saron and Justices Surya Kant and Avneesh Jhingan, directed that no FIR registered by the two states during the episode shall be cancelled without the permission of the High Court. It also ordered the Haryana government to file detailed status report regarding steps taken to sanitise Dera Sacha Sauda centres including its headquarters at Sirsa.
The Dera counsel today submitted before the court that security forces should have used rubber bullets to disperse the mob in Panchkula and not opened fire. However, the judges did not agree. “You can’t go soft when some people come armed with petrol bombs and deadly weapons to indulge in arson and lawlessness,” the court said.
“This was a war-like situation and it had to be fought like a war-like situation,” Justice Saron observed verbally. Senior advocate Anupam Gupta also said that he disagrees with Dera counsel as entire Haryana would have burnt had the security forces not responded strongly to the situation. Gupta further observed that when mob mentality comes and threatens everything, there has to be a hard response.
The bench also made clear its intent to lay guidelines on situations in which regular bullets or rubber bullets were required to be fired.
It was hearing a PIL filed by a Panchkula resident Ravinder Dhull, a lawyer, who had raised law and order concerns and stated that over 1.5 lakh people had reportedly entered the district earlier despite prohibitory orders. Violence broke out at Panchkula after Ram Rahim was convicted in a rape case by the special CBI court on Friday leaving 32 people dead while six died at Sirsa, even as incidents of violence were reported from parts of Punjab as well.
The court also directed that case diaries of each FIR and the report of investigation in connection with the violence will be submitted on a monthly basis to the concerned “area magistrates”. The magistrates, within ten days thereafter, will submit their comments to the high Court.
Among other directions, the bench directed Haryana to file a status report after it had directed that FIR be registered on the basis of a newspaper report in which it was alleged that some senior Dera functionaries had instigated and mobilised followers. On the issue of attachment of properties of the Dera, it was asked whether the Dera Sacha Sauda can be asked to give security and surety for payment of compensation during the pendency of these proceedings, Gupta told reporters later outside the court.
While Haryana state was represented by Advocate General Baldev Raj Mahajan, Punjab AG Atul Nanda represented the state and the Dera’s counsel was also present. The Centre was represented in the case by Additional Solicitor General of India Satya Pal Jain.
Justice Surya Kant said that a lot of credit must be given to the central forces in controlling the situation. The bench said it was relieved to hear from Advocate Generals of the two states that there has been no untoward incident during the past couple of days.
The Haryana AG said that they were dealing with “extraordinary circumstances” and whatever happened in Panchkula when violence broke out was “unfortunate”. Mahajan, however, submitted that the forces had controlled the situation within two hours.
The bench today again questioned Haryana on why a large number of people were allowed to gather in Panchkula and did not buy the argument that “clerical error” in the order for imposition of Section 144 of CrPC had led to it. Justice Surya Kant while pointing out to deadly weapons, iron rods, petrol bombs, sticks etc seized in the aftermath of the Panchkula violence questioned the Haryana AG as to how the state presumed that all of those who had came to Panchuka were there for a “peaceful gathering”.
The AG admitted that some “shortcomings” may have been there in handling the situation, but the intent was to prevent bigger damage which arsonists could have inflicted in such a situation. Mahajan informed the court that 1,039 people have been arrested and 63 FIRs registered, 103 Dera centres sanitised so far.
Justice Jhingan asked the Haryana AG as to who gave permission to Ram Rahim to come in a cavalcade of 200 cars, to which the AG said only two vehicles were permitted inside the court at Panchkula. The judge also asked as to how many people were travelling in five vehicles carrying private security of Ram Rahim.
Later speaking to reporters outside the court, Satya Pal Jain said, “At the outset the bench said it wanted to clarify that some of their oral observations on the previous hearing have been misreported. “The bench said it never uttered any word against the prime minister. They said they have been misquoted. It was a general discussion, in which the PM’s name was not even mentioned, the bench clarified today.” Jain said the court will now hear the matter on September 27.