In a big crackdown, the Haryana government today sealed over 30 congregation centres of the Dera Sacha Sauda across the state even as it came under attack from the high court over yesterday's violence that claimed 36 lives.
Four rifles, including an AK-47, pistols and petrol bombs were among the weapons seized from the supporters of the sect whose chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh was convicted yesterday in a 2002 rape case that sparked violence and arson, mainly in Panchkula and Sirsa, police said. Two cases of sedition were also registered against Dera followers, it added but did not give details.
Facing flak over the violence, the Haryana government suspended Ashok Kumar, the Deputy Commissioner of Police in Panchkula, alleging that his "defective" prohibitory orders allowed the crowd build-up in the district.
The situation in Haryana remained tense but under control even as the state government said there was no report of fresh violence in the state today. State authorities are now trying to ensure that there are no untoward incidents tomorrow or on Monday when the special CBI court judge Jagdeep Singh will be flown from Panchkula to the district jail in Sunaria in Rohtak where Ram Rahim is lodged for pronouncing the quantum of sentence.
The Army, meanwhile, said it has no immediate plan of entering Dera Sacha Sauda sect headquarters in Sirsa and that it is focusing on maintaining law and order, reacting to reports that it had entered the premises.
In a related incident, the state government sacked its deputy advocate general for "accompanying" Ram Rahim after his rape conviction yesterday by a CBI special court in Panchkula. The state government terminated the services of DAG Gurdas Salwara on the recommendations of Advocate General Baldev Raj Mahajan.
"It is found that yesterday the DAG accompanied the baba," Mahajan said.
The action from the AG office came after a video clip surfaced purportedly showing Salwara in lawyer's robes carrying a suitcase of the Dera head after his conviction.
At a special hearing, the Punjab and Haryana High Court minced no words in slamming Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar for "protecting" the Dera followers and extending political patronage to them. The court said the Khattar government had "surrendered" before the followers of the dera head for "political considerations".
"Thirty-six people have died, out of which six casualties are in Sirsa and remaining are in Panchkula," DGP B S Sandhu said this evening. Earlier, the death toll was put at 32.
Four rifles, including an AK-47, pistols and petrol bombs were among the weapons seized from the Dera supporters. "Over thirty 'Naam Charcha Ghars'(congregation centres) in various districts have been sealed," Haryana's Additional Director General of Police, R C Mishra said.
Giving more details, he said among the centres which have been locked included 13 in Ambala, 10 in Kurukshetra and 8 in Yamunanagar. He said over 3,000 'lathis' (wooden staffs), were recovered along with diesel and petrol which have been seized from Kurukshetra alone.
Punjab police also said that 'lathis', rods, axes etc were also recovered from 98 Dera centres spread across the state. "We have recovered one AK 47 rifle and one Mauser (rifle) from the vehicle of a Dera follower and two rifles and five pistols from another vehicle during the operations," Sandhu said. As many as 552 persons have been arrested in connection with the violence and further investigations are underway, he added.
Sandhu was addressing a joint press conference in Chandigarh along with Haryana Chief Secretary D S Dhesi and Additional Chief Secretary (Home) Ram Niwas. Dhesi disclosed that two cases of sedition had been registered against Dera followers.
Haryana government conducted searches and checking at several Dera centres "suspecting weapons could have been hidden," Niwas said.
At the press conference, Niwas was asked if searches were also being carried out at the Dera headquarters in Sirsa to which he replied in the negative.
"Security personnel are patrolling the outer area of the sect headquarters and keeping a close vigil," he said.
Baldev Raj Mahajan, Haryana's Advocate General, told the High Court that arrests of as many as 524 persons have been made in Panchkula. "24 vehicles have been seized, five pistols with 79 rounds; besides, 2 rifles with 52 rounds were recovered. Moreover, iron rods, dandas, hockey sticks and ten petrol bombs were also recovered. Eight FIRs have been registered in Panchkula. The details of FIRs registered at other places would be furnished."