C'garh: State-wide 'bandh' against Sacha Sauda

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Chandigarh, May 22: Punjab today virtually came to a stand still as normal life was thrown out of gear due to the state wide 'bandh' called by the Sikh clergy to protest against the alleged anti-Sikh activities of Sirsa based Dera Sacha Sauda head Gurmeet Ram Raheem Singh.

Reports reaching the state headquarters here said that barring one incident of a 'dharna' the 'bandh' was peaceful and no untoward incident had been reported so far.

A report from Bathinda said that about 25 members of 'Panthic' organisations were taken into custody by the police when they tried to stage a 'dharna' at Rampura Phul town. Amongst those who were taken into custody was the head of a gurdwara in Rampra Phul and the head of a 'kar sewa' organisation.

Reports said that public transport remained off the road and there were very few private vehicles plying in Punjab. The only vehicles to be seen on the highways and roads were those of the state police and the para military force (PMF) personnel who are on patrol duty to prevent any unsavoury incident.

State transport services of Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Haryana, Rajasthan, Uttrakhand and Chandigarh remained confined to the Punjab borders and did not enter the state.

Security at all 'Sacha Sauda' centers (deras) in Punjab, including the biggest at Salabatpura have been cordoned off by the security forces as a preventive measure. The security around major historical gurdwaras particularly the Golden Temple and Takht Damdama Sahid at Talwandi Sabo has further been tightened.

Reports said that all educations institutions, shops and business establishments did not open this morning. The state government had yesterday ordered the closure of all aducational institutions, that had forced the Universities to cancel the examinations slated for today.

Public Transport services between Chandigarh and Mohali were also effected.Reports said that attendence at government offices in the state and in Chandigarh was also affected by the 'bandh' as employees depending on public transport services could not reach their respective offices in the morning.

Fruits, vegetables and milk and milk products from the rural areas could not reach the major cities and towns of Punjab due to the 'bandh'. People in certain parts of the state particurlarly in the rural and semi rural areas went without their morning paper today.

However emergence and essential services fucntioned normally in most parts of the state. Hospitals remained open and medical shops paricularly those outside hospitals also remained open to provide the necessary medicines to the patients.

Reports said that the 'bandh' was total in Amritsar, Jalandhar, Ludhiana, Bathinda, Patiala, Moga and other districts of Punjab. The security force deployment was heavy in Bathinda, Moga, Muktsar and other places in the Malwa belt which has a sizeable number of Sacha Sauda supporters. Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, alongwith his Chief Secretary Ramesh Inder Singh and DGP N P S Aulakh is keeping a close watch on the situation. The Chief minister had yesterday clearly stated that the police would not hesitate to crackdown on anti social and anti national elements who try to disturb the peace of Punjab during the 'bandh'.

The Chief Minister has also appealed to all political parties particularly the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) to assist the government in maintaining peace and communal harmony. The Congress and the BJP too had made a similar appeal, with the latter going a step forward and warning that the Punjab government would be responsible for any untoward incident that takes place during the 'bandh' and the BJP might be forced to "take certain hard decisions in the interests of the people of Punjab".

Akal Takht Jathedar Giani Joginder Singh Vidanti while seeking cooperation from the public had appealed for peace and harmony during the 'bandh'. He had made it clear that force should not be used for closing shops or business establishments and there should be no display of weapons.

The Punjab government has already sealed its borders with Haryana and has imposed prohibitory orders under section 144 throughout the state. The government had yesterday made a few preventive arrests.

Meanwhile the Chandigarh Administration too has tightened security in the Union Territory and are keeping a close vigil on its borders with Punjab. Life was however normal in the UT with shops and business establishments opening in the morning.

A report from Moga said that about 200 followers and activisits of various Sikh religious organisations assembled at Gurdwara Bibi Kahan Kaur and then took out silent peace march in the town. They staged a 'dharna' at the railway station, but when a train arrived they lifted the blockade.

No provocative slogans were raised during the march. Elaborate security arrangements were made in the town and armed policemen accompanied the marchers who thanked the residents of the town for their support to the 'bandh'.

Meanwhile Irrigation Minister Janmeja Singh Sekhon who has been deputed by the government to monitor the law and order in the Ferozepur division, alongwith DIG Ferozepur Range visited Muktsar this morning and then rushed to Moga to review the security arrangements.

Reports from Amritsar, Ludhiana and Jalandhar said that the 'bandh' was total in the cities and the rural towns. No untoward incident was reported from these areas and security force personnel carried out flag marches at various places.



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