All markets shut, mobile internet and SMS services snapped, schools, colleges and offices closed, no roadways bus to reach Panchkula. In recent memory, it will be the first shutdown of its kind on Friday, as the city braces for the aftermath of the verdict in a rape case against Dera Sacha Sauda head Gurmeet Ram Rahim.
With the city gripped by rumours and uncertainty, and the number of Dera followers swelling by the minute, most Panchkula shopkeepers downed their shutters on Thursday afternoon. Memories of the Jat agitation, during which mobs burnt down shops in other cities of Haryana, also loomed and shopkeepers in sectors 11, 15, 9, Majri chowk, 2, 4 closed down as soon as they could on Thursday. All Panchkula markets are to remain shut on Friday.
Kuldeep Chitkara, president of Panchkula Beopar Mandal, said, “Although all the markets will remain shut tomorrow, as there are so many followers who have converged in sectors as well, there is fear of damage to the shops. Thus, most of our shopkeepers closed down this evening itself.”
Chitkara added that even otherwise movement of residents was limited. Because of the panic, Panchkula residents have already stocked up on essential food items and other necessities. “People have been advised to stay indoors. So many people have purchased ration in bulk. If the decision goes against the Dera chief, you never know the law and order may deteriorate,” said Rajesh Sharma, a resident of Sector 10.
S K Nayar, president of Citizens’ Welfare Association in Panchkula, said, “We have advised all our RWAs to request people to stay indoors and stock ration for the next couple of days in advance.”
The Panchkula Beopar Mandal also decided that vendors providing essential commodities like milk, eggs and butter would cater to residents in the early morning hours. Also, one chemist in each market has been told to open for emergencies.
In a coordination meeting with Punjab Governor V P Singh Badnore, it was decided that mobile data services would be suspended in Haryana, Punjab and Chandigarh. This has been done to avoid rumours and spreading of “fake news”.
In the orders issued by the Department of Home Affairs of Haryana government, it was stated that internet services, all SMS services and all dongle services be suspended for the next three days as there is likelihood of tension and widespread disturbance because of false rumours which could be circulated through mobile internet and SMS.
As the Dera followers began gathering near sectors adjoining the district court complex where the verdict is to be announced, the Panchkula police shut down roads leading to the complex. A gazetted holiday has already been declared in government offices, boards, corporations and banks in sectors 2, 4, 5 and 6.
All routes to Sector 1, Old Panchkula and Chandimandir have been closed and traffic is being diverted. As many as 5,000 policemen and six companies of paramilitary forces have been deployed to manage the situation.
More than 5,000 policemen are deployed in Chandigarh, along with 10 companies of paramilitaries. But most markets in the city will remain open, though by Thursday evening, traffic dropped considerably with people retreating indoors due to the uncertain security situation.
The Mohali district police has diverted several routes in Zirakpur and Derabassi. Senior Superintendent of Police Kuldeep Singh Chahal said that the people coming from Patiala side must reach Mohali via Banur to connect to Chandigarh. He added that the routes from Derabassi are also diverted and the police personnel are deputed at the special nakas on the diversions so that commuters could identify the diverted routes.
Some 2,000 police personnel have been deployed in the district, mostly in Derabassi and Zirakpur areas, as these towns are the routes which the Dera followers would take on their way in or out of Panchkula on Friday. The roads in Mohali and Kharar are, however, open with no traffic diversions in either town. The number of police force has been increased in Nayagaon area where a sizeable number of Dera followers live.
The Nayagaon police officials said that they had deployed security on the road leading towards the Nam Charcha Ghar, a place of religious assembly for Dera followers, located on the border of Nayagaon and Khuda Ali Sher which falls within the jurisdiction of Chandigarh.
The security around gurdwaras was also beefed up by the administration on Thursday. Police personnel were deputed around the gurdwaras, including the Nadda Sahib Gurdwara, located in different areas of the city.
Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh, who appeared in a Mohali court, said that the normal law and order would be ensured in the state at all costs and nobody would be allowed to disturb it. He added that strict action would be taken against the violators.
Bracing for Friday
Closure of petrol pumps: Closure of petrol pumps ordered by Panchkula administration from 9 pm on Thursday to 11 pm on Friday
UT offices to function: Offices of Chandigarh Administration will function normally on August 25
Shatabdi trains to operate normally: According to the railway authorities, Shatabdi trains will operate normally. “So far, all the Shatabdi trains will operate between Chandigarh-Delhi-Chandigarh as usual,” said Neeraj Sharma, Chief Public Relations Officer (CPRO), Northern Railway.
(with inputs from Jagdeep Singh and Jagpreet Singh)