THE MUCH-HYPED call given by the Indian National Lok Dal for digging the Sutlej-Yamuna Link (SYL) on Thursday resulted in over eight hours of traffic disruption on more than a 25-kilometre stretch of National Highway-1 from Ambala district in Haryana to Patiala district in Punjab. Apprehending law and order problems, police forces of both states had already diverted traffic to alternate routes. Traffic was restored on the highway late in the evening. A call that INLD gave three months ago finally led to the arrest of over 90 of its leaders and their supporters, including the party’s senior leader, Abhay Chautala, and president Ashok Arora besides several MLAs. After a daylong protest, Punjab police arrested them on charges of violating district magistrate’s prohibitory orders issued under Section 144 CrPC. Two INLD members of Parliament, Sirsa Lok Sabha MP Charanjit Singh Rori and Rajya Sabha MP Ram Prakash and at least 14 INLD MLAs and six former MLAs were among those arrested. Punjab police issued repeated warnings to the protesters to leave the place, declaring their assembly as “unlawful”.
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Hundreds of protesters marched the two-km stretch from the new fruit and vegetable market in Ambala to Shambhu barrier to enter Punjab. On their way, they were first stopped by Haryana police barricades. Without facing much resistance there, protesters continued their march towards Shambhu barrier. Armed with spades and shouting slogans for nearly two hours, INLD protesters reached the border where Punjab police had made elaborate arrangements. 10-foot-high iron barricades were welded together, creating a wall to bar protesters from crossing over from Haryana. Aerial surveillance, drones, riot-control vehicles and paramilitary forces were deployed at the police barricades on Punjab’s side to prevent intrusion. As the protesters reached Shambhu barrier, Punjab police issued a warning. An ultimatum of 10 minutes was given to the protesters to either disperse or face stern action.
Without making much noise, INLD leaders did not make any attempt to cross the barricade and Punjab police took them into custody. “If Punjab leaders keep opposing SYL canal, we will puncture tyres of their cars in Haryana though we have all respect for common man of Punjab and we don’t want to inconvenience them,” said Chautala while addressing the protesters. After his arrest, Chautala said Punjab police had erected a “wall of China” as if it was a “war between two countries”. He added, “We did not come here to fight nr seek alms. We were here to get our rightful due.”
As he was being herded into a bus, Chautala warned the Punjab leadership, “Those leaders who say that not a single drop of water would be given to Haryana [from Punjab], I dare them to enter Haryana.” Earlier in his address, Abhay had called Punjab “elder brother” of Haryana and said Punjab should honour the Supreme Court verdict and construct SYL canal to give water to “younger brother”. He said the marchers had come to do “kar seva” by digging the canal following the SC order.
The agitators reached the barricade around 3:40 pm, 20 minutes after state-owned Bell 429 helicopter started regular sorties. Punjab DGP, Law and Order, Hardeep Singh Dhillon, was on board the copter. The moment the agitators arrived, drones started videographing their moves and officials warned the agitators not to do anything which could land them in trouble as every activity of theirs was being recorded.
In his address, Abhay appealed to the dharna participants not to break discipline which could earn a bad name for INLD. Police started making arrests around 4:45 pm. Punjab police had sealed the borders at Shambhu toll barrier and Sarala near Kapuri on Wednesday. Heavy police deployment continued at Sarala on Thursday, too.