The Punjab and Haryana High Court pulled up the Haryana government for allowing a huge number of Dera Sacha Sauda followers to gather at Panchkula and said that it could take action against the DGP in case the state failed to ensure security.
The court directed the Centre to immediately provide adequate forces required to deal with any law and order issue while also asking the Dera Sacha Sauda to apprise it of the steps being taken by it to defuse the situation.
The sect head’s counsel told the high court that Dera chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh had issued an appeal and would again ask his followers to return to their homes.
The high court was hearing a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by a Panchkula resident raising law and order concerns as over 1.5 lakh people had reportedly entered the district, despite prohibitory orders under section 144 of the CrPC, ahead of a CBI court verdict tomorrow in a sexual exploitation case against the Dera chief.
A division bench of acting Chief Justice S Singh Saron and Justice Avneesh Jhingan heard the matter in the morning.
The bench asserted that the court did not want a repeat of a situation similar to the one witnessed in February last year when violence during Jat reservation stir in Haryana claimed 30 lives and property worth hundreds of crores of rupees was damaged.
The division bench asked Additional Solicitor General of India, Satya Pal Jain to spell out the steps which the Centre was taking.
Punjab and Haryana were represented by their Advocate Generals Atul Nanda and Baldev Raj Mahajan while Dera chief’s counsel S K Garg Narwana was also present.
The hearing resumed in the afternoon and a full bench, that comprised Justice Surya Kant, besides the two other judges, made it clear that it expected “full cooperation” from the Dera also.
The court expressed concern as to how a large build-up of Dera followers had been allowed at Panchkula and said that it could not remain a mute spectator if security of citizens living there was not ensured.
The court rapped Haryana government for running after the Centre seeking forces now and asked what were they doing when the build up of followers was taking place in Panchkula during the past few days.
Briefing reporters after the hearing, Jain said that Haryana had requested the Union Home ministry a few days back that Army should be kept on standby in case any law and order issue arose.
A request letter has been forwarded to the Defence ministry which has taken cognizance of the matter, he said.
The court directed the Haryana government to ensure that law and order is maintained and the police should persuade the Dera followers, who have assembled, to return, Jain said.
“The Dera chief’s counsel told the court that the sect head had, and would again, appeal to his followers to return to their homes. When the hearing takes place in the court on Friday, the Dera counsel said he will attach the video clippings of the appeal made to the followers,” Jain said giving details of the proceedings.
Jain also said that the court had said that the Centre should understand the “gravity” of the situation.
“I apprised that whatever is expected of the Centre, that is being and will be done. I apprised that we have made available central forces to Haryana, Punjab and Chandigarh. There are certain reserve central forces which will be reaching the two states tomorrow morning,” he said.
The Army has been kept at standby and will be deployed as and when the concerned state or UT seeks its help, he added.
For Punjab, the state’s Advocate General Nanda gave information pertaining to some intelligence inputs (on the situation) in a sealed cover, which, the court returned after going through, Jain said.
Speaking to reporters outside the court, Nanda, said “that, a sect head or a political leader cannot hold law and order to ransom, was one concern of the court. At the same time, security of the citizens, people living in Panchkula is also of prime concern.”
“The Court has told the Centre that on the slightest asking of either of the states, Punjab, Haryana or UT Chandigarh, they should be provided with Army and as much central forces as are required. It also made clear that it expected the Dera chief to issue appeals to his followers to return,” Nanda said outside the court.
A Panchkula resident, R S Dhull, had through the PIL sought directions for monitoring of the security arrangements by the High Court, as despite prohibitory orders, over 1.5 lakh people had the district by Wednesday.
The petitioner, a practising lawyer himself, had attached photographs of dera followers camping on the roads of Panchkula and also circulars issued by Punjab and Haryana highlighting the volatile situation.