Controversial sect leader Rampal finally appeared before the law Thursday and was promptly sent to jail by the Punjab and Haryana High Court. Haryana Police have slapped two cases of murder on Rampal and his aides for the six deaths caused in the stand-off and clashes with security forces this week.
Refusing to listen to Rampal’s plea that he could not appear earlier as he was “kept in captivity” by his followers at his ashram, the high court directed that he be kept in police custody till Nov 28, when the contempt hearing will be held.
A division bench of Justice M. Jeyapaul and Justice Darshan Singh directed the Haryana director general of police (DGP) to file a comprehensive affidavit on the operation conducted to arrest Rampal.
The court also sought a report on the nature of resistance offered by Rampal’s followers, casualties and injuries, and recovery of arms from his ashram, amicus curie Anupam Gupta told the media.
The court directed police to provide details of the expenses incurred on arresting Rampal. The court also directed the Haryana chief secretary to give a report on the properties owned by Rampal in the state.
After a stand-off with his followers for nearly 10 days, the self-styled godman was finally arrested Wednesday night from his Satlok Ashram near Barwala town in Haryana, about 210 km from Chandigarh. He was brought to Panchkula under heavy police protection.
Rampal was presented before the high court in connection with a contempt of court case. Earlier, the high court cancelled his bail in a 2006 murder case.
Six people – five women and an infant – died during the stand-off and clashes while nearly 300 people were injured. Rampal’s counsel, in a statement submitted to the court, claimed Rampal was “held in captivity” by his followers and could not appear before the court earlier due to this.
DGP S.N. Vashisht said Rampal was sent to Hisar under police security to face fresh cases of murder, sedition, attempt to murder, rioting, illegal detention and charges under the Arms Act registered against him.
Baljit, the second-in-command to Rampal in the ashram, also has been arrested, he said. His daughter Babita was also arrested and police seized one laptop, 17 mobile phones and three diaries from her. The seized items will be scanned, the DGP said.
Vashisht said 459 people from the ashram have been arrested so far. “They include 118 from Rajasthan, 116 from Haryana, 72 from Madhya Pradesh and others.”
The ashram was completely vacated with about 4,000 followers leaving Thursday. After cancellation of his bail, Rampal was taken from the Sector 6 General Hospital, where he was admitted earlier Thursday, to the Sector 5 police station in Panchkula, adjoining Chandigarh, and put behind bars.
Rampal claimed he was innocent. “I am innocent. All the charges against me are baseless. I don’t want to say anything. The deaths were unfortunate. I am not responsible for these,” he told journalists.
Disappointment writ large on his face, Rampal stood in the lock-up holding the iron bars, occasionally looking down.
Haryana’s Advocate General B.R. Mahajan sought permission to advance Rampal’s hearing in the contempt case. The court had issued fresh non-bailable warrants against Rampal Nov 17 and directed that he be presented by Friday.
Rampal was seen walking out of the ambulance at the Panchkula hospital. “We have examined him and his condition, including his blood pressure, is stable,” B.K. Bansal, a doctor at the Panchkula hospital, told the media.
Security forces Thursday evening launched a search operation inside the 12-acre ashram to recover weapons used by his supporters while resisting police action.
Hundreds of followers could be seen inside the huge Satsang hall. Many said they had complete faith in Rampal and that he will return soon. Others said they were forced to stay inside for the last 10-15 days.
“Many followers have been coming out since last night (Wednesday) ever since Rampal was arrested. Nearly 15,000 followers, many of whom were forced to stay inside by Rampal’s aides, had left yesterday (Wednesday) and were taken to the railway station and bus stand,” a police officer told IANS near the ashram.
Police said some areas of the ashram were in a mess after Rampal’s supporters fought pitched battles with security forces Tuesday. The sect leader had failed to appear before the high court although non-bailable warrants were issued Nov 5.
Rampal’s supporters indulged in vandalism in a court in Hisar in July when he was going there in connection with a 2006 murder case. The high court took suo motu cognizance of the incident and summoned Rampal.(IANS)