In a late-night development, the Haryana Police began taking steps to remove Dera Sacha Sauda followers camping in Panchkula around the CBI court complex. On instructions issued by Haryana Director General of Police B S Sandhu, police officers were heard making announcements from loudspeaker- fitted vehicles from about 11 pm at sites where the Dera followers were gathered in strength, asking them to move out in one hour as their assembly was unlawful under Section 144, or else they would be removed forcibly and face arrest.
Roadways buses, police vans and ambulances were on standby in Sector 2 and Sector 4 where the announcements were made. The police also asked the Dera followers lining the highway near Zirakpur to leave. But everywhere, the assembled people showed no sign of leaving, leading to arguments between the police and Dera followers.
According to DGP Sandhu, more than 50,000 Dera followers have assembled in Panchkula in support of Dera chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh. The Dera chief is going to appear in CBI court here on Friday. The CBI court shall be pronouncing its verdict on whether the Dera chief is guilty of raping two women 15 years ago.
Tensions may escalate later tonight with both the Dera followers digging in till the time of filing this report. The Army is standing by after the Haryana government raised a requisition of 20 columns for deployment in and around Panchkula.
The police move came after the Punjab and Haryana High Court came down heavily on the state government earlier in the day, and forced it to amend weak prohibitory orders issued on Tuesday. Citing a revised prohibitory order issued by the District Magistrate under Section 144 of CrPc, DGP Sandhu said, “The Dera followers who had assembled in Panchkula shall first be asked to move out on their own. We shall use loudspeakers to make announcements and convey them the court orders. We have arranged buses to transport the Dera followers out of Panchkula to nearby safe places. We shall provide them all assistance to move out of Panchkula.”
In a late evening briefing to the media, DGP Sandhu said, “We shall move the followers away from the court complex so that the court proceedings can be held peacefully and without any disruption tomorrow.” “We have arranged the buses for all these followers who have assembled in Panchkula and shall take them out of here. Since there are small children, women and old age people, we shall drop them to nearby religious places where they can take shelter for the night and proceed to their native places in the morning,” Sandhu told the mediapersons.
Sandhu said, “We have adequate number of force and officers with us. We have made a requisition for 20 columns of the Army. A request has been made to the Army to be on standby. If need arises, we shall definitely call Army.” About the sensitive areas across the state, Sandhu said, “Mainly, tension is in Sirsa and Panchkula. The rest of the areas are peaceful. We have adequate strength to control them [followers].” Sandhu told the mediapersons that all adequate arrangements for Friday’s court proceedings had been put in place.
Replying to the media queries on how the state police allowed such a large number of people to come and gather in Panchkula, DGP Sandhu said, “The earlier orders under Section 144 CrPC were issued by the district level police and administrative officers. Senior police officers were not part of this particular decision. But now since the orders have been amended, these followers will have to vacate the spaces occupied by them.”
He added, “We have deputed 10 SP-rank officers and two Additional Director General of Police rank officers to supervise all the arrangements for tomorrow. We have cordoned the area in 1-kilometre radius of the CBI court. No unauthorised person shall be allowed inside that radius tomorrow.”
Sandhu said several vehicles in which the Dera followers reached Panchkula were “impounded”. Without divulging any more details about the seizures, Sandhu added, “We have also seized various other things, which we cannot disclose at this stage. We have made adequate arrangements for tomorrow.”
We all must respect the law and maintain peace: Dera head
Late on Thursday, Gurmeet Ram Rahim released a brief video message asking his followers to go back home. “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 said the video. The High Court had asked his counsel to give an undertaking that the Dera chief would issue this message. But it came too late and after mobile internet networks had been cut off. Most dera followers did not believe it and thought it was a ruse by the police.