Mahashivratri celebrations turned into mourning on the Bathinda-Chandigarh national highway on Thursday, after a speeding truck crushed two Kanwarias (devotees of Lord Shiva) to death. Some members of the group have been injured. Enraged Kanwarias then torched the truck involved.
The group of Kanwarias, owing allegiance to Shri Mahadev Kanwar Sangh, Rampura Phul, were walking back to their hometown, when the truck hit the group from behind near the Guru Nanak Public School in Ghunas village.
The deceased have been identified as Suresh Kumar and Gurmel Singh.
One of the injured, Radhey Sham was admitted to the Max Hospital, Bathinda, but was later referred to the PGIMER. Another injured Ramesh Singla, admitted to a Rampura Phul hospital, is out of danger.
After the truck was torched, a fire tender rushed to the spot, but did not try and douse the flames. Fire officer Ravi Bansal later said that with an enraged mob milling around, they could not have risked damaged to the personnel and the fire tender. "However, our fire tender remained there till evening to control any further mishap," he claimed.
As news of the incident spread, a posse of policemen were deployed in the area. A crowd of Shiva devotees gathered and shouted slogans against the state government and the police.
Devotees blocked roads at the Sekha Chowk in Barnala and main chowks at Tapa and Handiaya. Shopkeepers downed their shutters in the afternnoon.
"On our way from Haridwar, the Uttarakhand police and the Haryana police supported us by providing food, shelter, medical-aid etc. However, in Punjab, no police support was provided," said a Kanwaria, Surinder Kumar.
SP (detective), Sharanjit Singh, said, "We are really concerned about the safety and security of devotees. More than 1,200 personnel are now deployed at Ranike Temple for Shiva devotees. Another 600 are at Sunam on the same duty. For other places, we shall make suitable arrangements."
SSP Opinderjit Singh Ghuman, said, "The driver of truck, Ranjit Singh of Faridkot, had fled from the spot. However, he has been arrested."
Deputy commissioner, Gurloveleen Singh Sidhu, said, "The state government has announced Rs 5 lakh compensation to the next of kin of each of those killed and free treatment for the injured.
Regarding jobs to their dependents, the issue will be considered on priority."
Anil Bansal, president of Beopar Mandal, Barnala, said, "Markets of Barnala, Tapa and Rampura Phul remained shut.
Since the demand of providing compensation to the families has been met with, there are no plans to hold a dharna or a bandh on Friday."
"We will hold a meeting to decide about a dharna at the Sekha Road on Friday, where deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal, is slated to visit," said Naresh Sahoria, patron, Kanwar Sewa Shivir, Barnala.
More than 1,200 personnel are now deployed at Ranike Temple for Shiva devotees. Another 600 are in Sunam on the same duty. For other places, we will make suitable arrangements, Sharanjit Singh, SP detective
We will hold a meeting to decide on staging a dharna at the Sekha Road where deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal is slated to visit on Friday, Naresh Sahoria, Barnala resident.