A sprawling complex spread over 12 acres of land surrounded by high walls, a four-storey palace-like structure with two dozen air-conditioned rooms, luxurious bathrooms equipped with modern fittings, state-of-the-art elevator and a private swimming pool - this isn't the luxurious villa of a fun-loving billionaire tycoon fussy about his security.
But the ashram of Rampal, who in a late-night swoop on Wednesday was arrested from his heavily-fortified ashram, surrounded by vast stretches of agriculture fields on the Hisar-Chandigarh state highway.
The lowly engineer-turned sect leader was living like a modern-day king, not a preacher, most of whose disciples came from the lower strata and rural milieu in states like Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Bihar and Rajasthan, besides Haryana. He has followers among the high and mighty too, some serving and retired bureaucrats and businessmen being regular visitors to his ashram.
The multi-crore Satlok Ashram, raided by a 6,000-strong police posse to "smoke out" the "mouse" (their code for the most wanted target), is built like a fortress with strategically located watchtowers, a 25-feet high outer wall on the periphery with wooden scaffoldings for trained guard, an equally high inner wall to create a corridor for quick movement and a massive iron gate at the entrance. Closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras installed at strategic locations to keep a watch inside and outside the ashram.
"The ashram was built like a fort meant to ward off an invasion. It instantly reminded me of Agra fort," a top-ranking IPS officer associated with Operation Samvedi carried out over the past three days to arrest the murder accused.
HT team was the first to enter the ashram complex at 1.40 pm on Thursday even as thousands of his hysterical disciples were still inside the expansive satsang (discourse) hall and were being urged by the police to vacate the premises. The hall has a special enclosure from where he used to deliver his sermons with a hydraulic chair, an LCD television in front and a huge picture of his on top.
The satsang hall with separate enclosures for men and women covers more than half the area of the complex and is big enough to accommodate more than 50,000 disciples. It has dozens of heavy-duty ACs, hundreds of ceiling fans and a large number of exhaust fans on top.
Hundreds of members of his "private militia" used to stand guard during his discourses.
The 63-year-old sect head was leading a rich and luxurious life in the dusty environs here. In the extreme left corner of the ashram is his private four-storey mansion, complete with a private swimming pool and an elevator, and it provides direct access to the special enclosure in the satsang hall. The rooms, fitted with air-conditioners, have attached bathrooms with modern fittings.
A few rooms have expensive and eclectic furniture, huge pictures of the ashram head, digital wall clocks and strong lockers, which the police were trying to break open at the time of filing of this report. The outer walls are covered with metallic mesh for security. The complex, including the mansion, was built in the past four years.
The dera head had moved into a smaller complex in nearby Daulatpur village after he was forced out of his ashram in Karontha, 12 km from Rohtak, following a bloody clash with the local residents in 2006. The Barwala ashram had only a boundary wall and a small structure in the beginning.
The massive ashram, built on land registered in the name of Kabir Parmeshwar Bhakti Trust, is one of the several properties owned by the sect head and his trusted aides.
While there is no land or property in the name of the sect head in Hansi, Hisar, Narnaud, Barwala and Adampur, as per information gathered by the district authorities, the trust has 93 kanal and 11 marla land on the Barwala-Tohana road and 7 kanal and 19 marla on the Barwala-Daulatpur road.
The Karontha ashram, spread over four acres, is currently in possession of the district administration in Rohtak. The sect is setting up another ashram, much bigger than the one at Barwala, at Betul in Madhya Pradesh.
"The ashram owns dozens of buses and vehicles. So far, about 100 of its vehicles have been impounded from around the ashram," Hisar deputy commissioner ML Kaushik told HT.
The state authorities are preparing a detailed dossier on assets and sources of the ashram head's funding. However, the sect head and his close aides are said to "own" transport companies in Maharashtra, besides getting funds from cash-rich devotees in Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh.
The district administration has ordered attachment of the trust's bank account in a local bank from which crores of rupees had been transacted in the past 10 days.
"The income tax department has been alerted. They have started the process to look into the bank account of the ashram head, his close aides and trusts being run by them,' according to sources.
Ashram likely to be taken apart
The ashram built in the controlled area violates several regulations. While the land on which it stands is the property of Bandichhor Bhakti Mukti Trust, the umbrella organisation under which the ashram functions, and thus cannot be taken back, the authorities can demolish the ashram on grounds of violations.
"Several notices have been served on the ashram by the town and country planning department. But there has been no response. It is a fit case for demolition," officials said.
Meanwhile, on Thursday evening, the ashram was handed over to the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF).
Confirming this, Hisar IGP Anil Kumar Rao said a special investigation team (SIT) had been constituted for thorough search of the walled compound. Headed by Hisar SP Satender Gupta, the SIT would also have forensic experts.
The district administration has also formed a team of five duty magistrates who would note down the complete details of the material found inside the ashram.
The deputy commissioner said the district town and country planner had been asked to verify if there was any anomaly in the land purchase and its development.
According to police, weapons, cartridges and sticks were spotted inside the walled compound. The IGP said the police was busy vacating the premises and it had yet to search the complex.