Haryana and Punjab will continue to remain on high alert even as no untoward incident was reported following Dera Sacha Sauda chief Baba Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh’s sentencing to 20 years in prison in two rape cases. Soon after the 50-year-old self-styled godman, lodged in Sunaria jail in Rohtak, was sentenced by the special CBI court judge, chief ministers Manohar Lal Khattar and Amarinder Singh took stock of the situation in their states.
Special CBI court judge Jagdeep Singh, who convicted the sect chief on Friday, was flown from Chandigarh to the Sunaria jail to pronounce the sentence in a special courtroom made in the prison complex, amid tight security. Police earmarked a designated place for the battery of mediapersons in Rohtak today to allow them to cover the event. However, they were not allowed into the special court.
Peace prevailed in Haryana including the violence-hit Sirsa and Panchkula as authorities sought to prevent a re-run of the mayhem on Friday by the followers of the Dera chief after he was convicted of rape by the CBI court. The violence had claimed 32 lives in Panchkula and six in Sirsa, besides leaving over 260 injured.
The police sealed 10 congregation centres of the Dera in the Rohtak range. In all, 103 such centres were searched across Haryana. Around a 100 “items”, including lathis, were found buried under the ground at a congregation centre of Dera Sacha Sauda in Haryana’s Sonepat district during a search.
The Dera head wields considerable political influence and even counts political leaders from various parties among his supporters. He has lakhs of followers in northern India. Sirsa, the sect headquarters continued to be under curfew today.
However, unlike August 25, Sirsa today did not witness any untoward incident after the pronouncement of the quantum of sentence in rape case against Ram Rahim Singh, senior IAS officer V Umashankar said addressing mediapersons along with IG Amitabh Singh Dhillon. Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar appealed to the people, especially the Dera Sacha Sauda followers, to respect the sentence pronounced by the court and help in maintaining peace.
“No person is above the law and everybody should respect the verdict delivered by the court,” he said in a statement here. Khattar said effective arrangements had been made to maintain peace in the state.
Strict action would be taken against any person who attempts to disturb the law-and-order situation, which was reviewed at a high-level meeting held here during the day, he added. As a precautionary measure, schools and colleges remained shut in Haryana and also in “sensitive” districts of Punjab.
Mobile Internet services also remained suspended in the two states. At many places in Punjab, security forces conducted flag marches. Security forces maintained a tight vigil in sensitive districts falling in the Malwa region including Bathinda, Sangrur, Moga and Patiala, where there is sizeable presence of Dera followers.
Meanwhile, authorities in Punjab and Haryana have started identifying movable and immovable assets of the cult on the directions of the high court, officials said. Banks have been asked to provide details of accounts of the dera.
The Punjab and Haryana High Court has asked the two states to submit by Tuesday a list of dera’s properties and assets which can be attached in case it is found that they were responsible for property damage after Singh’s conviction. Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh has also been closely monitoring the situation, officials said.
On sentencing of the Dera chief, Amarinder said, “it was not a thing to be either welcomed or rejected”, while appealing to the people to “accept” the court verdict. Replying to a question, the chief minister said the court verdict sentencing Ram Rahim Singh was “not a thing to be either welcomed or rejected”.
He said the Punjab government would continue to maintain a constant vigil to ensure that peace was maintained in the state and that curfew remains in force as long as necessary. The chief minister met Punjab Governor V P Singh Badnore here this evening to apprise him of the law and order situation.
It was a judicial decision which everyone has to “accept”, the chief minister said, adding that he was only interested in ensuring law and order in Punjab. The chief minister said that in addition to the list of damaged properties, the state would file before the Punjab and Haryana High Court a claim for recovery of the expenditure incurred in the deployment of central armed forces from the Dera.
On the continuation of curfew, he said the state government would review the situation again on Tuesday before taking any decision on lifting the curfew imposed in some areas as a precautionary measure. Curfew has already been lifted from five of the 10 districts where the prohibitory orders were imposed. Ban on mobile internet services in Punjab would be lifted tomorrow.
The decision on opening schools and colleges in the sensitive districts of the state had been left to the district authority concerned, said the chief minister.