The Haryana Police and central forces on Thursday night swung into action to flush out scores of Dera followers who have gathered in Panchkula over the past three days.
State Director General of Police B S Sandhu said the night-long operation would be carried out and the premis, as Dera followers are known, would be moved out in buses arranged by the government.
Gurmeet Ram Rahim also made an appeal to his followers to go back to their homes, a development which may come as a big relief to security personnel.
The sect head released a video and asked his followers to abide by law.
“I had earlier appealed to maintain peace and calm and asked (followers) not to go to Panchkula. All those (followers) who are in Panchkula should return to their home.
“I have to go to the court for hearing the verdict and I will go to Panchkula. We should all abide by law and maintain peace and calm,” Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh said in his video appeal.
An estimated 1.5 lakh Dera followers including men, women and children have gathered in Panchkula, where a Central Bureau of Investigation court is set to deliver its verdict in a rape case against Dera Sacha Sauda head Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh on Friday.
After a rap earlier in the day from the Punjab and Haryana high court as to how thousands of Dera followers had been allowed to gather at Panchkula ahead of the court verdict, Haryana DGP Sandhu on Thursday night told reporters that the premis would be moved out of the town.
Sandhu said they would persuade the followers to move out of Panchkula and return to their homes.
"The high court order is that they should be told they will have to go. We are arranging buses and the entire night exercise will be carried out to send them out of Panchkula,” Sandhu said.
However, it became a Herculean task for the security forces as the Dera followers were ‘reluctant’ to move.
He claimed that ‘the situation as of now is fully under control. Besides the police force, central forces have reached Panchkula in strength and taken position. The area near the court is out of bounds and we will not allow anyone to go there except for those who are required to be there’.
He said that as of now curfew was imposed in Sirsa city and three nearby villages, but no such decision was taken for Panchkula so far.
When asked if Dera followers would resist the move to shift them, Sandhu said, “We are capable and prepared to deal with any situation."
He said the Haryana police personnel have seized umbrellas and other articles from some of the Dera followers who had gathered in Panchkula.
"We have checked them. They are not carrying any lathis. We have seized umbrellas, and impounded buses and vehicles in which they had arrived here,” he said.
To a query, he said security forces would make the followers understand that they have to comply with the high court orders.
"We are dealing with women and children and old alike, but we have sufficient police force including women to deal with them,” Sandhu said.
The DGP said the police was keeping a close eye on the situation and 10 Indian Police Service officers of superintendent of police rank, a few inspector general-level officers, and two additional director generals of police were deputed for the purpose while senior IPS officer K K Sharma was in-charge of security situation in Panchkula.
Sandhu said the Dera chief has said that he would appear before the CBI court in Panchkula on Friday and it was up to him to chose the road route or reach Chandigarh by air.
“We are prepared in both cases and have made arrangement accordingly,” he said.
Sandhu said the state had requested for Army to be deployed, after which it is sending 25 columns.
"These columns are coming from the western command in Chandimandir,” he said.
A large number of Dera followers have also gathered at Sirsa, which is about 260 km from Panchkula, to show solidarity with the 50-year-old sect chief.
Many Dera followers have been camping at the Sector 3 park near the Panchkula golf club, under the flyovers on the Kalka-Shimla highway and inside the town in Sectors 2, 4 and other residential areas.
Thousands of followers have also congregated at the Dera headquarters at Sirsa.
"We are here for our pitaji (Gurmeet Ram Rahim). He is doing so much selfless service for the mankind by taking up several humanitarian tasks. Can't we even have the right to have his darshan,” said a young woman from Kurukshetra, who was busy preparing food in open ground in Panchkula to be served to the followers.
Earlier, the Punjab and Haryana high court pulled up the Haryana government for allowing a huge number of Dera followers to gather at Panchkula and said that it could take action against the DGP in case the state failed to ensure security.
Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar spoke to Union Home minister Rajnath Singh and Defence Minister Arun Jaitley and apprised them of the emerging law and order situation ahead of Friday's court verdict in Panchkula, official sources in Chandigarh said.
The Army has been called in the two sensitive districts, Panchkula and Sirsa, they said.
Earlier, the Haryana government had sent a requisition for deployment of Army in these two districts, the sources said.
Thousands of Dera followers have gathered in both the districts in an attempt to show solidarity with the sect chief, who is set to appear before a Central Bureau of Investigation court in Panchkula which is expected to pronounce verdict in a 15-year old sexual exploitation case.
Officials have also announced that an Sirsa city and three nearby villages will be under indefinite curfew from 10 pm onwards as a precautionary measure.
According to sources Haryana had sought 25 Army columns for Panchkula. The force is likely to reach the two districts by Thursday night, they said.
Earlier, both Union ministers Singh and Jaitley, assured Khattar of all help to deal with any situation which may arise after the court delivers its verdict in the sexual exploitation case.
In a telephonic conversation, Union home minister Singh, who is in Cholpon-Ata in Kyrgyzstan, took stock of the law and order situation in Haryana in view of the large number of followers of the Dera chief arriving in Panchkula, Chandigarh and nearby areas.
The chief minister briefed Singh and Jaitley about the steps taken by the state government to maintain peace in the state, and both assured Khattar of help, the sources said.
The Centre has already rushed more than 15,000 paramilitary personnel to Punjab and Haryana. The two states, where Dera Sacha Sauda has a large following, are on a high alert.
Earlier, the HC had 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 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 Code of Criminal Procedure, ahead of the CBI court verdict.
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 cognisance 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 tomorrow (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.
Dera Sacha Sauda has a huge following in Punjab as well as Haryana and both the states are on a high alert.
Mobile internet services have also been suspended for 72 hours in both the states and their joint capital Chandigarh while authorities are keeping a close watch on social media posts also, officials said.
The authorities also restricted movement of trains and buses towards Panchkula.
However, in what appeared to be some relief for a stretched administrative machinery, Ram Rahim Singh said on Thursday that he would appear in person before the special CBI court on Friday while appealing to his followers to maintain peace.
'I have always respected the law. Even though I am having a backache, still abiding by law, I will go to court (tomorrow). I have full faith in God. Everyone should maintain peace,' the sect chief tweeted.
The sexual exploitation case was registered against the Dera chief in 2002 by the CBI on the directions of the Punjab and Haryana high court after anonymous letters were circulated about the alleged sexual exploitation of two 'sadhvis' (female followers) by Ram Rahim Singh.
The Dera chief, however, has denied these charges.
In Panchkula near Chandigarh, thousands of Dera supporters, including women and elderly, arrived and were camping in parks and open spaces.
More premis, as the Dera followers are known, were pouring in.
Dera followers have also been arriving in great numbers at the sect headquarters at Sirsa in Haryana.
The Centre has rushed as many as 150 companies of paramilitary forces to Punjab and Haryana to assist the police forces in maintaining law and order, a senior Union home ministry official said.
One paramilitary company comprises over 100 personnel.
Flag marches were carried out by security forces in Panchkula, Sirsa, Hissar and other places while many hospitals were also put on alert as a precautionary measure, the official said.
The police were keeping a close watch on social media, particularly WhatsApp groups, Facebook and Twitter, and have asked people not to spread rumours, he said.
Bus services on many routes was also suspended as a precautionary measure.
Meanwhile in Chandigarh, a decision to suspend mobile Internet services was taken in a coordination committee meeting chaired by Punjab Governor and UT Administrator, V P Singh Badnore.
"Mobile Internet and data services have been suspended for 72 hours in Punjab, Haryana and UT Chandigarh with immediate effect," Haryana Additional Chief Secretary (Home) Ram Niwas said.
A notification in this regard was being issued, he added.
Niwas said that the ministry of railways had been requested to immediately stop the train movement towards Chandigarh for two days.
Similarly, buses of Haryana Roadways coming to Chandigarh and Panchkula had already been stopped for two days, he added added.
A joint control room of Haryana and Punjab would be set up in sector-9, Chandigarh where a police officer each from both the states would be deployed for better coordination, he said.
Niwas said that as per earlier orders, Section 144 was imposed in all districts.
He added that Dera followers were being flushed out from sensitive areas, he said.
Niwas said that ten senior IPS officers had been deployed and two Director General level officers of the police department were also focusing to ensure peace and maintaining law and order in the state.
Security agencies in Punjab, Haryana and Chandigarh have been on toes in the wake of Dera followers flocking Panchkula where the special court is to pronounce verdict on Friday.
Prohibitory orders have already been clamped in Punjab, Haryana and Chandigarh.
The Haryana government declared the Chaudhary Tau Devi Lal stadium complex, Sector-3, Panchkula and Dalbir Singh Indoor stadium, Sirsa as 'special jails'.
Earlier, the Chandigarh home department had declared the cricket stadium in Sector 16, which is associated with early training days of legendary Kapil Dev, as a 'temporary jail on August 25', the day of the verdict.
The Punjab government declared that government offices situated at Chandigarh would be closed on August 25.