The Haryana police have registered 34 FIRs, two of which include sedition charges, against dera followers in connection with violence and arson in Panchkula on Friday, which left 36 people dead and caused extensive damage to public and private property. Addressing a press conference here Saturday, Haryana chief secretary H S Dhesi said an AK-47 rifle and one mouser were recovered from a vehicle of dera followers away from the site of violence. Two rifles and five pistols, he said, were recovered from another vehicle. He said 552 people had been arrested so far.
Dhesi was accompanied by Haryana Home Secretary Ram Niwas and Director General of Police B S Sandhu. Asked if dera chief was named in any of the cases, DGP said cases were registered against unknown persons and who all would be named in the cases would be clear after investigations. Dhesi dismissed reports that Army had entered Sirsa-based headquarters of Dera Sacha Sauda. “Neither Army nor paramilitary forces entered the dera nor is there any such plan. The district administration, with help of army and paramilitary forces, is sanitising and securing the area adjoining [Sirsa] dera,” Dhesi told reporters.
He said 101 companies of paramilitary forces were at the disposal of Haryana government along with 10 columns of Army. “Six columns of Army have been deployed in Panchkula and four columns have been deployed in Sirsa,” he said. Dhesi also refuted reports that the dera chief was being given VIP treatment. He said dera chief was taken to district jail in Rohtak Sunaria jail by helicopter due to “security concerns” as Rohtak jail was 250 kilometres away. The Government of Haryana paid for the helicopter,” Dhesi said, adding that the dera chief was being treated as a normal prisoner and was being served normal food.
Dhesi said “the minute dera chief was arrested, the Z-plus security given to him automatically stood withdrawn”. Responding to a query as to how a woman was allowed to accompany dera chief in helicopter, DGP Sandhu said he would get the matter probed. Honeypreet, who dera says is the daughter (not real daughter) of the dera chief, was seen in the helicopter with Ram Rahim when he was taken to Rohtak jail on Friday. “The woman, who is daughter of dera chief, is no longer with him,” the DGP said.
The DGP defended the Haryana police and said he led the operations for three hours in which area was cleared of dera followers. Asked why police did not clear the area earlier, he said, “At that time, there was fear of more damage.” He said everything was peaceful till the verdict was announced. Tussle started only after conviction. Miscreants protests and resorted to violence,” DGP said.
Asked about reports of an Inspector General “slapped” by a dera chief guard, DGP said there was an altercation and the IG was not slapped. He said the dera chief wanted to go in private vehicle, but since he was arrested, he was taken away in police vehicle. Asked about Haryana police personnel running for cover from dera followers, DGP said at times, protesters outnumbered police parties at certain locations. “It happens at times. At times, they are ahead, at times we have to relent).”
Asked about delay in opening fire after the dera followers had run riot, Sandhu said that as per standard operating procedure, water cannons are used first, followed by teargas shells and then lathicharge. In case protesters continue to resort to violence and arson, police open fire, he said. Chief Secretary Dhesi said the role of officials concerned would be probed for any lapse. Dhesi and Sandhu asserted that none among the dead or injured were local people as there was no missing reports in local police stations.
Dhesi said that among the 28 dead in Panchkula, 24 were men, three women and one child. He said 250 persons were injured, of which 50 were police personnel. He said 150 injured were referred to other hospitals (outside Panchkula) and 31 among them had been discharged. He said among the injured, 24 were residents of Punjab, 22 from Haryana and four each from Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. Asked how many persons died of police firing, Chief Secretary said the post-mortem was on and details about that would be clear later in the day.
The DGP said only seven bodies had been identified so far. Asked that phones of the dead kept on ringing in the mortuary and the bodies could have been identified by answering the phone calls, the officials said their priority was to maintain law and order and rush the injured to the hospitals. Home Secretary Ram Niwas said, “Whatever effective action could have been taken was taken in three-and-a-half hours. “First shot was fired at 3:30 pm and after 6 pm, there was no violent incident. All were ousted by 6:30 pm. They could have ransacked Panchkula, could have caused damage by entering residential areas and to the government establishments and could have even entered Chandigarh,” he said.
Home Secretary said action had been taken against one official for fiasco relating to prohibitory orders under section 144 of Criminal Procedure Code which led to the congregation of dera followers. He said besides several entry points, Panchkula was also susceptible to entry from Ghaghar river. Panchkula Deputy Commissioner of Police Ashok Kumar was removed from the post on Thursday night. The Chief Secretary said 28 vehicles, including some of government, were torched. “Two government buildings were damaged,” he said, adding that six shops, a bar and HDFC bank was also set on fire.