Chandigarh (PTI): The Army was called out and curfew was imposed in 10 districts of Punjab’s Malwa region, home to a large number of Dera Sacha Sauda followers, as violence spread to the state following the conviction of the sect chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh in a rape case on Friday.
At least 30 people were killed and 250 injured in widespread violence, arson and police firing in Haryana triggered by the conviction.
While 28 people were killed in Panchkula, the epicentre of the violence, two died in Sirsa.
The punishment can be a jail term of not less than seven years but may even extend to life imprisonment.
Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, who was personally monitoring the situation, appealed to the people to remain calm and not to take the law in their hands.
The chief minister spoke to Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh and Defence Minister Arun Jaitley to apprise them of the situation.
He also spoke to Congress president Sonia Gandhi on the situation in Punjab and informed her of the steps taken by his government to maintain peace in the state.
Police have launched a major crackdown and arrested some supporters of the Dera Sacha Sauda, including a member of its state-level committee, an official spokesperson said.
The chief minister said the decision to call out the Army was taken to prevent any loss of life or damage to public/ private property in the 10 districts — Sangrur, Barnala, SAS Nagar (Mohali), Bathinda, Mansa, Ferozepur, Fazilka, Faridkot, Sri Muktsar Sahib and Moga.
Army sources in Delhi said six columns of army personnel were deployed in Panchkula and two columns in Sirsa in Haryana. They said one column of army personnel was deployed in Punjab’s Mansa and another column in Mukhtsar in the state.
Police patrolling has been intensified across the state, especially on highways and major roads. Eleven senior police officers have been deputed to supervise various security measures over the next 24 hours, especially during the night, the official spokesperson said.
Two railway stations — Malout and Balluanna — in Punjab were torched by the angry Dera followers. Besides, about 40 incidents of vandalism and arson were reported from across the state.
There were 28 incidents of arson, besides damage to state/central government offices/properties in seven districts of the Malwa region, the spokesperson said.
In his appeal broadcast through television and on social media, the chief minister exhorted the people of Punjab not to get provoked by rumours and to respect and accept the court orders.
He assured the people that a tight blanket of paramilitary and police forces was in place across the state to ensure their safety and security.
“We will not let the atmosphere of the state be vitiated at any cost,” he warned, adding that besides 85 companies of CRPF and BSF deployed on the ground, the Army was in full readiness to deal with any untoward incident. The security forces were fully prepared to tackle any eventuality, he added.