From Panchkula violence to journalist KJ Singh’s murder: 17 events of 2017 that rocked and shocked Chandigarh
Too much bad news, too few good things!punjab Updated: Dec 26, 2017 22:42 IST
The dera violence that claimed 36 lives and singed Panchkula, a spell of heavy rain that almost downed the tricity, mayhem on PU campus, double murder in Mohali and a spike in crime dominated 2017 that had only a few positive tidings.
1. Death by a BMW car
In a party gone wrong, Akansh Sen, 28, a relative of former Himachal Pradesh chief minister Virbhadra Singh, was allegedly run over by a BMW car in Sector 9 on a cold February night. He later succumbed to his injuries at PGIMER. Even though Akansh’s friends identified both the accused — Balraj Singh Randhawa, 31, allegedly driving the car, and co-accused Harmehtab Singh Rarewala, alias Farid (32)— on the very first day, the cops are still clueless about the whereabouts of Randhawa who has been declared a proclaimed offender. Rarewala, who was arrested seven days after the murder, is facing trial. He is a grandson of the erstwhile PEPSU chief minister, Gian Singh Rarewala
2. The Ekam murder case
The year began on a grisly note for Mohali when an auto driver alerted the cops after finding an abandoned suitcase with blood on it. The police opened it to find the body of Ekam Singh Dhillon, 39, an alumnus of YPS. The six-footer was allegedly shot dead by his wife Seerat Dhillon with her licenced 9mm pistol at their rented accommodation in Phase 3B1, and packed into a suitcase. Seerat first fled her house, but later surrendered. At present, the trial is underway in the court and the main witness, Tul Bhadhur, has gone missing. Seerat, a niece of former Congress MLA, Ajit Inder Singh Mofer, is lodged in Ropar jail. Both, Seerat and Ekam were accused in the multi-crore Citrus Council scam.
3. When PU turned into a battlefield
Panjab University saw one of its worse episodes of campus violence on April 12 when students protesting against fee hike clashed with the police, which unleashed teargas and lathis to disperse them. The students were demanding a rollback of the fee hike—it was increased by up to 1000% for some courses—by the cash-strapped varsity. The protest turned violent after students were prevented from entering the office of Vice-Chancellor Prof AK Grover. At least 15 policemen besides some students were injured; some were even sent to hospital. More than 50 protesters were taken into custody. The UT police booked 66 students for sedition only to have the complainant, a security officer at PU, say that his complaint had been “misinterpreted”. Congress leader Randeep Singh Surjewala, a former student and ex-senator of PU, described the police action as “the most brutal attack on students ever in the history of PU”. Later in May, the PU capped the fee hike at 10%. The protests saw SFS, a low-key student wing, taking the centrestage in the student council elections.
4. Liquor ban: From fear to cheer
On April 1 this year, the Supreme Court banned the sale of liquor within 500 metres of the state and national highways. The UT suffered heavy losses as over 30 outlets on Madhya Marg and 40 on the Sector 35/43 road were hit by the order. More than 2000 people lost their jobs in the churn that followed, but the order was modified four months later. The apex court order was triggered by the petition of Chandigarh-based NGO ‘Arrive Safe’. But following a partial rollback that exempted highways within the municipal limits, hotels and bars within UT were allowed to serve booze, providing much cheer to hotel and bar owners.
5. Chandigarh swachh no more
In a major setback to the civic body in May this year, Chandigarh slipped from its exalted second position last year to an unenviable 11th slot in the Swachh Survekshan Survey 2017 under Swachh Bharat Mission–Urban (SBM-U). The warning signs were there for everyone to see. Sanitation was a major issue in the municipal corporation house with councilors pointing to its deteriorating condition and the anomalies in the allotment of the contract to a Delhi-based company. Even MP Kirron Kher came down heavily on this issue in one of the house meetings. The garbage processing plant at Dadumajra was also in the news for its standoff with the MC. Even today, the plant is processing only 40 % of the garbage.
6. Chandigarh, the new diabetes capital
A Lancet study found that overall prevalence of diabetes is 13.6% in Chandigarh, which is the highest in 15 states. At 14.6%, the city also has a high pre-diabetic prevalence or chances of being diagnosed with diabetes. The study was conducted by the Indian Council of Medical Research-India Diabetes study, and published in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology. Interestingly, 27% of the city’s poor were also found having diabetes. Experts blame the “lazy attitude” of the residents for the high prevalence of diabetes. Over time, diabetes can damage the heart, blood vessels, eyes, kidneys, and nerves. Adults with diabetes have an increased risk of heart attacks and strokes.
7. Varnika stalking case
Varnika Kundu, 29, was returning home to Panchkula after meeting some friends in Chandigarh on the night of August 4 when she found herself being followed by Haryana BJP chief Subhash Barala’s son Vikas Barala and his friend Ashish Kumar in a white Tata Safari. Kundu, daughter of a Haryana-cadre IAS officer, said the boys intended to abduct her and even tried to open the door. The case, which grabbed national headlines, turned the city into a media circus with television channels following its every twists and turns. Though the police initially arrested the duo for stalking and wrongful restraint, and released them on bail within hours, they were later charged with attempted abduction, and have been in jail for over 100 days with the court refusing them bail four times. The UT police came under fire for dragging its feet on the case.
8. That sinking feeling: When the tricity got flooded
The heavens poured like never before in the tricity one fine morning on August 21. By the time it was 10, normal life had come to a grinding halt. Hundreds of office-goers were stranded, houses were flooded, and the government machinery was missing in action. Even the Panchkula-Yamuna Nagar national highway that is under construction got washed away at four places. Soon, videos of cars floating in the rainwater went viral. A 5-year-old boy was electrocuted to death near his house in Sector 20, Panchkula. The city received 121- mm in just over two hours. The extreme rain event exposed the glaring flaws in the drainage system, which was equipped to handle only 25 to 35 mm of rain. It also gave lie to the administration’s claims of being well prepared for the monsoon. Mohali was the worst hit.
9. 36 die in Panchkula dera violence
On August 25, Panchkula witnessed unprecedented violence in its four-decade history. Minutes after Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim was convicted for rape by the CBI court, his followers went on the rampage. They clashed with security forces, torched government and private buildings in various sectors before army opened fire and shot down 36 people. The Zirakpur-Kalka highway and HAFED chowk in Sector 5 were the epicentre of violence, which spread in the entire region. One hour of mayhem left a permanent scar on the city, which is still struggling to come out of its trauma. Ram Rahim’s adopted daughter Honeypreet and other close aides have been booked for plotting this mayhem along with 1000 others. Ram Rahim was also questioned for his role in the violence, but is yet to be formally booked.
10. Fastest trial in 10-year-old rape case
A fast-track trial court in Chandigarh sentenced two brothers to life imprisonment till death for raping their 10-year-old niece, who gave birth to a child in August after the Supreme Court dismissed her abortion plea. The landmark trial was concluded in a record three-and-a-half months after the case came to light. The girl was found to be 30-week pregnant when her mother took her to a hospital following stomachache this July. The girl then accused an uncle, her mother’s cousin, who was a guard at a local hotel. Police arrested him but the case turned on its head after the DNA samples of the girl’s child — who was born on August 17 — didn’t match with those of the older uncle, a father of three. More than a fortnight later, the man’s younger brother was arrested and he turned out to be the main culprit. The court of additional district and sessions judge Poonam R Joshi imposed a fine of Rs 305,000 on the convicts in the case that made headlines in India and abroad.
11. KJ Singh murder
Former senior journalist KJ Singh, 63, and his mother Gurcharan Kaur, 92, were found murdered in their house in Phase 3b2, Mohali, in September, sending shock waves in the tricity. The house was bolted from the outside and the two bodies were found lying on the bed inside. The police failed to crack the case despite the Punjab government setting up a special investigation team to look into it. Finally, a month later, they arrested Gaurav Kumar, a native of Uttar Pradesh. It was claimed that KJ had an altercation with Gaurav following which the latter murdered him and his mother. KJ Singh worked in various leading newspapers in Chandigarh like The tribune, Indian Express and Times of India. Though the police claim to have solved the murder, several questions remain unanswered.
12. Mohali hotelier shoots wife
Mohali witnessed a strange murder of passion in October when a 60-year-old hotelier fired at his NRI wife from a pointblank range following an altercation in their car in Phase X. Nirankar Singh Sarao fired six shots at his wife, Kulwant Kaur, 62, and then drove her to Fortis Hospital in Phase 8, where she was declared brought dead. Singh had returned from the United Kingdom in 2004 to set up Sarao Hotel in Phase 10. Last month, his children gave a statement to the investigating officer, saying it was a pre-meditated attack and Sarao wasn’t suffering from a medical ailment as he had claimed.
13. A cylinder blast that destroyed a family
Seven people were killed when a cylinder burst in a Sector 10 house in Panchkula on the eve of Diwali. It turned out to be a black Diwali for commerce professor Tarsem Chand Garg who lost both his sons in this tragedy. One of them was a PEC graduate, while the other, an IIM graduate working as a banker in Mumbai, was here for the festivities. While the police investigation is slow and hasn’t been able to pinpoint the cause of the blast, the state government has agreed to set up a burn unit in the Sector 6 government hospital since precious time was lost in transporting the injured to Chandigarh.
14. Conversion rates shoot up by 55 times
The UT administration allowed the conversion of residential properties from leasehold to freehold after three years, but after revising the rates up to 55 times, creating much heartburn among house-owners. This is evident from the fact that the Chandigarh Housing Board (CHB) received just one application for conversion in the last two months, while the UT estate office has received none. There are around 45,000 property owners in the city, whose property is on leasehold. The Municipal Corporation gave another jolt to the residents when it increased the property tax by 10% in August after a gap of 13 years. Little wonder then that both Congress and BJP leaders are demanding a rollback of these rates.
15. The auto gangrape
The city was horrified when a 21-year-old woman from Dehradun was gangraped by three persons, including the driver of the auto she had boarded on November 17. The victim had taken the auto around 7.45pm after attending her first stenography class in Sector 37. She was going to her PG accommodation in Mohali. But the driver, Irfan, headed towards Sector 42 on the pretext of refuelling the vehicle. Later, he drove her to a jungle opposite the petrol station in Sector 53, where the trio committed the heinous act. The police have arrested the three accused – Mohammed Irfan (29), Mohammad Garib and Kismat Ali, alias Poppu. The public outrage over this incident has forced the administration to revisit autos. The administration has mandated the verification of auto-drivers besides keeping a close eye on their paper work.
16. Parking problem peaks in Chandigarh
Nearly 18 months after the municipal corporation scrapped it, paid parking was reintroduced in June this year with smart parking. The civic body, which suffered a loss of 5 crore when it failed to auction its parking lots, converted them into smart parking lots from December 8, and also doubled the parking fees from 5 to 10 per entry (for four hours) and 10 for every two hours thereafter. This move may have streamlined parking in all the 26 parking lots of the city, but it’s left people fuming. Now MC is planning to make 70 more paid lots in various markets. To discourage residents from buying cars, the administration also plans to tax the second car by the same owner up to half the price of that car.
17. When cops said, drink and be damned
This year, the Chandigarh traffic police cracked the whip on sozzled drivers like never before. A total of 5,986 drunk driving challans were issued between January 1 and December 16, the highest in the past seven years. Entry and exit to Sector 26, the bar hub of the city, became the favorite hunting ground for cops with alcometers. The police increased the frequency of the nakas and armed the traffic cops with better equipment, including 50 new breath analysers. Later to outwit tech-savvy drivers, cops started mobile nakas. The cops also suspended the licences of 3600 drivers for speeding, drunk driving, talking on mobile phone or jumping the red light.