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A year after Dera Sacha Sauda verdict, rioting cases collapse as acquittals pile up

Scores of people whose vehicles, buildings and other valuables were destroyed or damaged during the violence are running from pillar to post for compensation from the government.

india Updated: Aug 26, 2018 07:17 IST
Rajesh Moudgil and Yuvraj Kaushal
Rajesh Moudgil and Yuvraj Kaushal
Hindustan Times, Panchkula
Dera Sacha Sauda,Gurmeet Ram Rahim,Honeypreet Singh
Dera followers attacked an OB van on August 25, 2017 after Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim was convicted.(HT File Photo)

Six men walked free from a Panchkula court on July 30, acquitted in the case of large-scale violence that followed the conviction of Dera Sacha Sauda head Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh for rape on August 25 last year.

The six — Hoshiyar Singh, Ravi Kumar, Sanga Singh, Gyani Ram, Tarsem and Ram Kishan — had been earlier acquitted by a local court in another case on the ground that there was no evidence to establish their role in rioting and unlawful assembly.

These aren’t the first acquittals in the case that shook Haryana, nor are they likely to be the last going by the trend so far.

In a total of 240 cases registered in the state — Panchkula being the epicentre of arson and rioting, followed by Sirsa and Kaithal — police have so far arrested 1,483 people and presented challans in 207 cases. The total number of accused is 2,603 with some names appearing in more than one case.

Read: Followers keep Gurmeet Ram Rahim’s Rs 2,100-crore empire afloat with donations

Assistant commissioner of police (ACP) Adarshdeep Singh, heading the special investigating team (SIT) in Panchkula, says in the two rioting cases that fell flat, the complainants failed to identify the accused since the mob has a large number of followers.

He adds that the SIT tried to present the best evidence but the yardsticks of the police and the trial court to establish the act of the suspects are different.

One of the public prosecutors representing the state said, requesting anonymity, that they have reviewed the detailed judgment in the two cases of acquittals and a decision on the next course of action is under process.

No permission for sedition charges

In Panchkula alone, police say 610 people facing sedition charge have been arrested while 20 are evading arrest. Of these, nine people belonging to the Dera core group who “hatched the conspiracy” of large-scale violence and arson had been declared ‘most wanted’. A mandatory permission from the state home department, however, was yet to come.

Three of the most wanted who carried a reward of Rs 50,000 were Gulab alias Gulab Mal, Naveen alias Gobhi Ram, and Pargat Singh. They were arrested two months ago. The remaining six — Aditya Insan alias Aditya Arora (declared proclaimed offender), Amrik Singh, Phool Kumar, Abhijit Shankar Bagat, Iqbal alias Bagar, and Jasbir Singh — are absconding.

On July 23, the court dropped sedition charge against key aides of Ram Rahim and other followers. Top aides of Ram Rahim, including Panchkula Dera in-charge Chamkaur Singh and media coordinator Surender Dhiman, Govind Ram and Pawan Insan, are among the 19 accused.

Over the past seven months, this was the fourth instance when the sedition charge was dropped.

The court said a prima facie case was made out against the accused under sections 148 (rioting), 149 (member of unlawful assembly guilty of offence), 353 (obstructing public servant), criminal conspiracy and section 3 and 4 of the Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act, 1984 read with section 149 of IPC.

Where is Aditya, the Dera spokesperson

Aditya Insan, the Dera’s chief spokesperson, was declared proclaimed offender on May 21, 2018, nine months after the police failed to arrest him for his role in inciting violence. He and Honeypreet Insan, the Dera chief’s protégé, topped the most wanted list.

Police say Aditya was the prime conspirator along with Honeypreet in triggering the violence in Panchkula on August 25. While Honeypreet is behind bars, police are still struggling to arrest Aditya and have increased the bounty offered on him from Rs 1 lakh to Rs 5 lakh.

Punjab and Haryana High Court, which is overseeing investigations into the Dera violence, had recently come down heavily on the Haryana police for their failure to nab him.

The government has recently started attaching his assets. In its status report submitted before the high court earlier this month, the state police held that the proceedings on attachment of Aditya Insan’s property had been initiated. The details pertaining to properties in his name are too being compiled, police held.

Relief for Arson victims not in sight

Scores of journalists whose vehicles, cameras and other valuables were destroyed or damaged during the violence are not the only ones who are running from pillar to post for compensation from the government. There are many more whose buildings and infrastructure were destroyed.

RS Patial, administrative head, Pallavi hotels, Panchkula says: “We have not got any compensation, nor have we come across any concrete decision from the administration for the losses we suffered. We have filed an application and the matter is still pending at the deputy commissioner’s office..” The hotel in Sector 16 suffered loss to the tune of Rs 72 lakhs, he said.

Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh in Sirsa. (HT File Photo)

Doublespeak by design

The state police was made to get into action after Ravinder Singh Dhull, a lawyer, filed a PIL in the Punjab and Haryana High Court seeking the court’s intervention as he suspected soft-pedalling by the state government ahead of August 25 last year.

“Though the state government claimed it imposed Section?144 in Panchkula, assembly of a large number of people was not stopped. While DGP Punjab apprehended violence, the government appeared to be sleeping... I filed and mentioned (this in the) PIL on August 23, 2017,’’ he says, adding that the acquittals show soft-pedalling by the BJP government.

Ashok Arora , the president of the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD), the main opposition party in Haryana, claims the government grovelled before Dera. “That the guilty got convicted is fine, but it was a gross failure on the part of the government for whatever happened after it. The government allowed Dera followers to gather in Panchkula and treated them as “guests”, though some anti-socials indulged in violence in which 40 lives were lost. And then to hide its failures, the government arrested many innocent people who are now being and would be acquitted,” he said, adding it was all an eyewash by the government.

However, media advisor to the chief minister Rajiv Jain maintains that the government handled the case with utmost care and had given a free hand to police. ``At no point did the government softpedal, and that is why convictions and arrests are happening and cases are under trial in the courts,’’ he said.

On the question of compensation to journalists and others whose property had been destroyed during the violence and arson, he said the government was making sincere efforts to ensure they are adequately compensated at the earliest.

First Published: Aug 26, 2018 07:17 IST