CHANDIGARH/DIBRUGARH: In search of radical preacher Amritpal Singh, police on Sunday conducted flag marches and searches across Punjab, arresting 34 more supporters and detaining four and sending them to a jail in faraway Assam. However, the Punjab and Haryana High Court has asked the state government to respond on Tuesday to a habeas corpus petition, which claims that the preacher is already in illegal police custody and should be released.
Due to the closure of courts, Justice NS Shekhawat conducted the hearing at his home-office. Police stuck to their statement that the ‘Waris Punjab De’ chief evaded them during a car chase in Jalandhar district on Saturday, when the crackdown against the group began. He has filed a new FIR against Khalistan supporter and his supporters.
Section 144 of the CrPC, which prohibits congregation, was invoked in the union territory of Chandigarh, the joint capital of Punjab and Haryana. Prohibitory orders were already in force in some parts of Punjab.
In this case, police recovered an abandoned pickup with a gun, a sword and several cartridges in Salema village of Jalandhar district and said it appeared to be part of Amritpal Singh’s convoy.
The action comes weeks after Singh and his supporters stormed the Ajnala police station near Amritsar, assuring that an arrested person would be released.
Twenty-one supporters of Amritpal were taken into custody near Boparai Kalan in Jalandhar district when they tried to stage a ‘dharna’ over the previous day’s action.
These detentions are apparently not part of the 78 arrests made by the police on Saturday and 34 more on Sunday. Earlier, the police said that nine firearms have also been seized.
The state remained on high alert. In a show of strength, security forces conducted flag marches at several places including Ferozepur, Bathinda, Rupnagar, Faridkot, Batala, Fazilka, Hoshiarpur, Gurdaspur, Moga and Jalandhar.
The Punjab government also extended the ban on mobile internet and SMS services till Monday afternoon. The official order, which exempted banking services, said it was to prevent ‘any incitement to violence and any disturbance of the peace and public order’.
According to an Assam Police official, four of those arrested were brought to Dibrugarh in BJP-ruled Assam by a 27-member Punjab Police team.
The men, now lodged in Dibrugarh Central Jail, were identified as alleged fund raisers Daljit Singh Kalsi, Bhagwant Singh, Gurmeet Singh and ‘Pradhanmantri’ Bajeka.
Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma told reporters, “Sometimes, people arrested in one state are sent to jail in another state.”
“We will provide full security to him in the jail,” he added.
Soon after the Ajnala incident, Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann had met Union Home Minister Amit Shah. A few days ago, Amritpal Singh had also indirectly threatened Shah.
Security has also been tightened in Jallupur Kheda, Amritpal’s native village in Amritsar, where his father Tarsem Singh said his son had already been taken into custody by the police.
The fugitive’s father said, “He is in danger for his life.” “There is no information since yesterday. We think he has already been taken into custody.”
Inspector General of Police Sukhchain Singh Gill said that Amritpal Singh is still absconding.
“Whatever the Punjab Police does in this matter will be within the ambit of the law. Everyone has a legal right and can avail whatever remedies are available under the law.”
He said the police acted in a transparent manner and Amritpal Singh was seen running away from the ‘naka’ set up for him at Mehatpur.
Jalandhar Police Commissioner Kuldeep Singh Chahal described it as a game of ‘chor-sipahi’ (robbers and police).
“Sometimes, they manage to escape. But we will arrest him soon,” he added. He said there was no lapse on Saturday.
Singh’s vehicle was chased for 20 to 25 km, the officer said. The lanes were narrow and “somehow he managed to change his vehicle and escape”.
He said that so far two of their vehicles have been seized.
Police have now registered an FIR against Amritpal Singh and his supporters for vandalizing a police post with a vehicle found in a Jalandhar village and in another case.
Amritsar Rural Senior Superintendent of Police Satinder Singh said another FIR under the Arms Act was registered on Saturday night following the arrest of seven associates of the preacher in that district.
The police warned that strict action would be taken against anyone spreading rumours, adding that it was monitoring fake news and hate speeches from various countries, states and cities.
The action follows an FIR registered a day after the attack on Ajnala police station on February 23.
The preacher and his supporters were accused of creating disharmony, attempt to murder, assaulting police personnel and obstructing public servants in the discharge of their duties.
Six policemen including a superintendent of police were injured in Ajnala.
Opposition parties had marked the incident as a sign of the Aam Aadmi Party government’s failure to maintain law and order and expressed apprehensions that Punjab could revert to the days of Khalistan militancy.
Amritpal, who returned from Dubai, became the head of ‘Waris Punjab De’, founded by actor and activist Deep Sidhu, who died in a road accident in February last year.