A luxury car without a registration plate and old currency notes were seized from the headquarters here of the Sacha Sauda Dera, a sect whose head is in jail after being convicted for rape, an official said. In a mammoth search operation being carried out by security forces and district authorities, some rooms were also sealed and hard disk drives and unlabelled medicines recovered, Haryana’s Information and Public Relations Deputy Director, Satish Mehra, who has been authorised by the administration to speak to the media, said.
The exercise is being conducted amid tight security by police and paramilitary personnel, besides senior officials of various government departments. “Some rooms have been sealed, computer hard disk drives, unregistered Lexus car, an OB van, Rs 7,000 of demonetised currency, Rs 12,000 cash and some pharma medicines without labels or a brand name are among other items which have been seized,” he said. Mehra said forensic teams had reached Sirsa from Karnal and Sonipat, while forensic experts had also been called in from Roorkee in Uttarakhand.
Reports of plastic “coins” or tokens being found during the operations could not be confirmed. The process, which began around 8 AM, is being videographed and monitored by retired District and Sessions Judge A K S Pawar, who was appointed as a Court Commissioner by the Punjab and Haryana High Court on Tuesday to oversee the exercise. Curfew remains in force on roads leading to the Dera headquarters. The roads are also blocked and no unauthorised person is being allowed to move towards the Dera premises.
The Dera, spread over nearly 800 acres, has been divided into ten zones for the purpose of sanitisation and searches, with each zone under the control of a senior officer. Mobile Internet services have been suspended in Sirsa district till September 10 to curb the spread of rumours in view of the drive, and to prevent the disturbance of public order.
Journalists were stopped at the Shah Satnam Singh Chowk, about 7km from the headquarters. The chowk, which separates the heart of the city from the Dera, is also under heavy security. Security personnel had also been deployed in strength at other road blockades or ‘nakas’ around the Dera. A large number of vehicles entered the Dera complex early this morning, carrying policemen, paramilitary personnel and district officials drawn from various government departments.
Among the vehicles were police buses, paramilitary and Quick Reaction Team vehicles and bomb disposal squad and anti-sabotage team vehicles, officials said. Fire tenders and heavy earth moving machines and tractors have also been pressed into service. The help of blacksmiths has been sought for opening locks, the officials said. “We have a strategy and are hopeful that the sanitisation process will be conducted in a smooth manner. The Dera management too has expressed its willingness to cooperate with the local administration and police during the investigation,” Haryana Police DGP B S Sandhu said in Chandigarh earlier.
The Dera management had said earlier today it would cooperate with the authorities. “Today the sanitisation process has begun. We have always followed the law. We will extend all cooperation in carrying out this exercise by the government and appeal to all to cooperate and to maintain peace and calm,” Dera chairperson Vipassana Insan said here.
Court Commissioner Pawar arrived in Sirsa yesterday and held a meeting with top officials of the civil and police administration, including the paramilitary, to take stock of the situation before the start of the process. The premises of the Dera, whose chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh was jailed for 20 years in two rape cases last month, houses educational institutions, markets, a hospital, stadium, recreational areas and houses.
The Dera chief, who featured in a few films which were directed and co-produced by him, also has some shops in the complex selling consumer products which he had launched two years ago under “MSG” brand. Duty magistrates, executive magistrates and revenue officials are also part of the exercise.
Sixteen ‘nakas’ have been set up near the Dera. Forty-one companies of paramilitary forces have been deployed in Sirsa district.
The anti-bomb disposal squad, 40 commandos of the Special Weapons and Tactics team and a dog squad have also been deployed, along with personnel from the CRPF, Sashastra Seema Bal, Rapid Action Force and the BSF. Hisar Inspector general of police Amitabh Dhillon, Sirsa SP Ashwin Shenvi and Deputy Commissioner Prabhjot Singh are also part of the exercise.
The police and the Dera management have maintained that licenced weapons were deposited by most Dera followers at Sirsa with the police authorities. The Punjab and Haryana High Court had earlier taken up a PIL filed by Ravinder Dhull, a Panchkula resident, who had raised concerns over the law and order situation and stated that over 1.5 lakh people had reportedly entered the district earlier despite prohibitory orders. Large-scale violence broke out in Panchkula after the Dera chief’s conviction in the rape cases, leaving 35 people dead. Six others were killed in Sirsa.
The Haryana government had filed a plea on Friday seeking permission for the sanitisation process under judicial supervision, after the conviction of the sect chief, now in a Rohtak jail. The HC appointed a court commissioner for the purpose earlier this week. A report of the entire exercise will be submitted to the high court by the court commissioner, with a copy to the state government.
Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar had earlier said some “objectionable” items were found during the sanitisation of ‘namcharcha ghars’ (congregation centres of Dera Sacha Sauda) in the state. Over 100 such centres had already been sanitised, he had said. The Haryana government had come under attack for allowing a huge build up of Dera Sacha Sauda followers in Panchkula on the day of the conviction. Khattar had said there could have more violence had the government not been alert.