AK 47s, pistols... firearms haul tied to Dera

Haryana police today faced allegations of security lapses from within following arms seizures in Panchkula, although the administration tried to deflect criticism by asserting that none of those killed in the town yesterday were local people.

By Arnab Ganguly in Chandigarh
  • Published 27.08.17
Jawans conduct a flag march near Dera Sacha Sauda in Sirsa on Saturday. (PTI)

Chandigarh, Aug. 26: Haryana police today faced allegations of security lapses from within following arms seizures in Panchkula, although the administration tried to deflect criticism by asserting that none of those killed in the town yesterday were local people.

Thirty-six people died on Friday - 30 in Panchkula and six in Sirsa - chief secretary Depinder Singh Dhesi said, insisting that all those who died in Panchkula were Dera Sacha Sauda supporters from outside, killed in police firing and stampedes. He said they included a child and three women.

"We have recovered an AK 47, a Mauser pistol, two rifles and five other pistols in Panchkula from two vehicles," Dhesi said a day after a CBI court's rape conviction of Dera chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim had triggered rioting by his followers.

A senior police officer said in private that the arms seizures from Panchkula, where Dera supporters had been allowed to camp for a week ahead of yesterday's verdict, "points to clear lapses in security".

"If the vehicles were being frisked properly, how could these weapons come to Panchkula?" he asked. "It's fortunate that the toll wasn't significantly higher."

Later this evening, the police seized five pistols with 79 bullets, two rifles with 52 bullets and one AK 47 from the Dera headquarters in Sirsa along with iron rods and hockey sticks.

Punjab and Haryana High Court today ordered that Gurmeet's sentencing, scheduled for Monday, be held at the Sonaria jail in Rohtak where he has been lodged.

Earlier in the day, the high court had chided the state government for its "vote bank" politics in allowing the assembly of Dera supporters in Panchkula.

The government sacked deputy advocate-general Gurdass Singh Salwara for allegedly carrying a bag belonging to the Dera chief while the convict was being led to a helicopter to fly him to jail.

Dhesi, however, denied that any favours were being granted to Gurmeet. "He is being treated like any other prisoner, eating the same food. The Haryana government had paid for the chopper for security purposes, as the jail is 250km away," he said.

However, Haryana director-general of police B.S. Sandhu, who was present at the joint news conference, could not explain why a woman who he claimed was the Dera chief's daughter was allowed to travel in the helicopter.

Some officers today questioned the decision to allow the Dera chief to travel to the court from his Sirsa headquarters, 240km away, in a motorcade yesterday instead of bringing him to Panchkula in a chopper.

"The convoy started around 11am and reached the court complex around 1.30pm. There was sufficient time for the mob to assemble on the road leading to the complex and provide them easy access to Sectors 3 and 4, where the worst violence took place," an officer said.

At the news conference, Dhesi twice insisted that the arms had been recovered at a spot "far away" from the court complex.

Dera followers today started leaving the sect's 1,000-acre ashram in Sirsa, with the administration making regular announcements through loudspeakers asking them to evacuate. "There are about 3,000-4,000 people on the premises and they are gradually vacating," Sandhu said.

Six army columns have been stationed in Panchkula and four in Sirsa, Dhesi said.

Many Dera centres in Haryana were being sealed and security personnel deployed outside their premises, officials said. Punjab too launched a crackdown on Dera centres.

PTI quoted Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh as saying the devotees should not have been allowed to assemble in Panchkula.

Dhesi said the mob had burnt 28 government and private vehicles besides torching six shops, two other private buildings including an ATM, and two government buildings one of which housed income-tax offices.

The six dead in Sirsa have been identified as Veena Devi and Sahil (Fatehabad), Wazir Chand, Kala Singh and Vinod Kumar (Sirsa) and Robin (Jind).

Director-general of police Sandhu said the police had followed the protocol in dealing with violent mobs.

"Tear-gas shelling followed by lathi-charge is the procedure. Once the mob started setting vehicles ablaze, the police opened fire.... Within a couple of hours the mob had been pushed out of Panchkula," Sandhu said.

Property list

Punjab and Haryana High Court, which had yesterday ordered the Dera's properties attached to recover damages for the destruction, today directed the sect to provide a complete list of its assets and warned it against any attempts to sell or transfer them.

"The court has asked the state governments (of Punjab and Haryana) to seek petitions from private owners whose property was damaged. These would be placed before the court," said Atul Nanda, Punjab advocate-general.