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Panchkula violence: How were lakhs of dera followers allowed to assemble, asks HC

Justice RK Jain, who is a member of the three-judge bench looking into various aspects of violence, lapses and compensation to be paid for the 2017 incident, questioned
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh | By HT Correspondent, Chandigarh
PUBLISHED ON DEC 18, 2019 11:39 PM IST

The Punjab and Haryana high court on Wednesday questioned the Haryana administration over allowing large congregation and not being able to pre-empt followers were coming, for over three days, ahead of the August 25 hearing in 2017 when Dera Sacha Sauda head Gurmeet Ram Rahim was convicted in two rape cases.

“Police don’t allow a boy and a girl in park. How did they allowed them (dera followers) in lakhs (in Panchkula),” said justice RK Jain, who is a member of the three judge bench looking into various aspects of violence, lapses and compensation to be paid for the 2017 incident.

“They were not there (prior to that day). They are not there now,” he added while asking amicus curiae, senior advocate Anupam Gupta to address arguments on the next date of hearing whether they could have been stopped, whether there were some lapses in stopping them, what action can be taken against those, who were there even after prohibitory orders and how to stop reoccurrence of such incidents in future.

Justice Jain stated, “The state has an intelligence department. Isn’t it a failure of CID too,” he asked. Gupta will address his arguments on this aspect on January 8. Among other issues, the court is examining who is to be liable to compensate for damage to public and private property and whether the Dera can be made to pay and asked to cough up bills worth crores that various agencies spent on security.

Ram Rahim was convicted by the special CBI court, Panchkula on August 25, 2017. Following the conviction, violence had broken out in parts of Punjab and Haryana, claiming lives of at least 41 people in the clashes. Large scale arson took place, especially in Panchkula, as dera followers assembled in lakhs and resorted to violence post the verdict. The rape case was registered in April 2002. Ram Rahim is behind bars and serving a jail term for the two rape cases and for murder of a Sirsa journalist in 2002.

Court draws parallels with anti-CAA protests in Delhi

Drawing parallels to damage caused to public and private property in Delhi due to protests against the CAA protests, the bench remarked whether these protesters are afraid of anybody. “See what is happening in Delhi,” the bench added.

Senior advocate Ashok Aggarwal appearing for the Dera apprised the court that law against damage to property in protests and compensation etc has been enacted by Punjab but was not there in Haryana. He categorically told the court that culpability had to be established, whether it was individual, or of any group, with evidence thereof, if compensation is ordered against the dera and its followers. Let it proceed like a civil court, he argued.

Gupta, on the other hand, submitted that there was willful inaction and culpability on the part of Haryana government to not act against the dera, which had enjoyed political patronage irrespective of the fact who was at the helm. It was a case of ‘withering away of the state’, Gupta told court.

Appearing for the state, Punjab’s advocate general Atul Nanda told the court that the state was dragged into controversy and it had nothing to do with what was happening in Haryana. “We were forced to pay for security arrangements to the Centre. Given the economic situation, why we should not be paid,” he said, while seeking time from the court to address arguments on the issue of compensation.

Contempt proceedings can’t be initiated against Dera at this stage: Gupta to HC

To a question posed by the high court, Gupta on Wednesday told the bench that it was possible to launch contempt proceedings against the dera head and his followers, within six months of the incident, since it was not initiated earlier. “At this stage it can’t be initiated even though the court has jurisdiction for the same,” Gupta told the court.

This question had arisen because there was an undertaking before the HC on August 25 from a dera counsel that followers won’t indulge in violence and, if asked to, they will return. On the last date of hearing, the court had asked Gupta to address arguments on this aspect.

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