Coming down heavily on the Haryana government for the current law and order situation in Panchkula, the Punjab and Haryana High Court said Thursday there had been a “complete collusion” between the people moving into the city and the state government. The HC observation came after the state Advocate General told the court that was a “clerical mistake” in the Section 144 order passed by Deputy Commissioner of the district.
Hearing a PIL on the situation in Panchkula where thousands of followers of Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim have assembled ahead of the Friday verdict in the rape case against him, a full bench of the HC directed the governments of Punjab and Haryana and the Chandigarh administration to ensure peace and law and order and deal sternly with “those violating the law” at all places, particularly in Haryana’s Sirsa district.
“The State of Haryana and the District Police Administration shall act firmly to ensure the persons who have gathered at Panchkula return. Besides, prevent and ensure that the crowd does not further swell,” said the full bench of acting Chief Justice S S Saron, Justice Surya Kant and Justice Avneesh Jhingan.
The HC constituted the full bench of three judges after the division bench of acting Chief Justice S S Saron and Justice Avneesh Jhingan noted in the morning hearing that the Haryana government had failed in controlling the situation and observed it would not even hesitate to dismiss the state DGP if the situation was not tackled. The division bench sought a report from the Centre and Haryana on the situation, after which it adjourned the case for afternoon.
When the court resumed hearing in the afternoon, it was soon adjourned after the Haryana government said a meeting of officials is taking place. Soon, a three-judge bench with the addition of Justice Surya Kant resumed hearing at 3:30 pm. Senior police officer, including Punjab’s DGP (law and order) Hardeep Singh Dhillon and Panchkula Commissioner of Police A S Chawla were also present.
“Who is responsible for creating all the mess? You are yourself allowing the people. Why did you allow the crowd to gather in Panchkula? Why are these officers mute spectators? You are extending your helping hand. They (followers) are walking on foot and you are unable to intercept. What else do you need to know that there is a collusion? The residents of Panchkula too have a right to live in peace. How have you allowed this to happen?” observed the HC bench, adding the Haryana had been “somewhat lacklustre in controlling the crowd gathering in Panchkula.”
The HC, which had asked the Haryana government to produce the Section 144 order in the morning, said during the resumed hearing that the perusal of orders passed by the government clearly showed there was no prohibition whatsoever of the assembly of five or more persons at any point of time. Haryana AG Baldev Raj Mahajan told the High Court that “there is a clerical mistake in the order dated 22.08.2017 regarding prohibition of assembly… and that an amended order has been passed today i.e. 24.08.2017” to which the bench said, “This is nothing but a post-mortem of the situation. If you have passed the order, what measures have you taken for the dispersal of the people.”
“We want preventive action and it is visible in none of the state’s orders. It is really disheartening. Same thing happened during the Jat agitation. You are encouraging them,” observed the bench. “The order is an invitation from you that please come, but not with guns. It is all lack of will power. The forces are best at what they do but either they don’t want to do it or they have been asked no to do it (remove the followers)”
“It is to be noted that by the time the amended order has been passed, the damage had already been done in as much as number of people have gathered and probably with a view to raise protests,” the High Court said in the day’s interim order on Thursday.
‘Is Panchkula not part of India?’
The bench also pulled up the Centre after it was informed that only a part of the paramilitary companies sought has been provided to Punjab, Haryana and Chandigarh administration. “Panchkula and Haryana are part of India. Make a statement it is not part of India and the say the responsibility wholly lies with the state. What rubbish are you throwing at us? These are exceptional circumstances and exceptional steps are needed to be taken. We expect you (Centre) to step in and save the residents,” it said.
‘Call Army if needed to tackle the situation’
The HC said in the morning it did not want a repeat of the situation during the Jat agitation last year and observed it would call in Army if the authorities were not able to handle the situation. The court was informed that the Haryana government had requested the Centre to keep Army on a stand-by.
‘Border porous, outnumbered force’
Panchkula’s Commissioner of Police A S Chawla told the HC bench that the Panchkula border was porous and it was difficult to contain the flow of people into the city. “Sector 1 has been sanitized and not a single person has entered the court,” said Chawla. “Our number falls much shorter. They (followers) first came in buses, then autos and then people started walking. It is difficult to know whether people belong to this particular group.”
In response, the HC said the problem was that the entire police force had fixed its attention to the court complex. The HC also pulled up Dera counsel S K Garg Narwana, asking why the organisation had not made an appeal to the people to return to their homes. The counsel said fresh such appeals would be made.