Haryana: Tension mounts as police cordons off Rampal's Barwala ashram

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Barwala (Haryana), Nov 16 (IANS) Tension mounted outside the Satlok Ashram complex near Haryana's Barwala town Sunday as troopers and hundreds of police personnel surrounded the complex of self-styled godman and sect leader Rampal.

A crackdown by security forces looked imminent with talks between the administration and police as well as followers of the sect leader failing to break the impasse over his arrest.

Haryana map

The sect leader has to be produced in the Punjab and Haryana high court Monday morning.

Police sources said two Bharatiya Janata Party leaders of the area had gone to have another round of talks with Rampal's followers to ask them to let the sect leader be taken into custody peacefully.

Informed sources said 15 battalions of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), five companies of the Rapid Action Force and nearly 10,000 personnel of Haryana Police were stationed near the Satlok Ashram complex near Barwala town in Hisar district, 210 km from Chandigarh.

The Hisar-Chandigarh highway has been sealed near Barwala town.

"We have made adequate arrangements to take him into custody and produce him in court. We cannot share operational details," Hisar Superintendent of Police Satender Kumar Gupta told the media.

Rampal, a controversial sect leader who faces charges of murder, inciting mobs and contempt of court, remained holed up inside the complex.

Thousands of his supporters, including women and children, camped outside the complex for over a fortnight to prevent security forces from arresting him.

He has been directed to appear before the Punjab and Haryana High Court Monday at 10 a.m. The police have to execute the warrants latest by Sunday.

Sect spokesman Purshottam Dass denied that Rampal was avoiding the judicial process.

"He (Rampal) is not medically fit. He will appear before the court when he is fit. He has been attending court hearings earlier also. He is not trying to avoid it," Dass said.

"The hearing can also take place through video conference. The administration has cut all our supplies, including water, power and milk. We are ready to die here."

The high court had severely criticised the police and the Haryana government last week for failing to arrest Rampal. Non-bailable warrants were issued against him Nov 5.

"Rampal is under the wrong impression that he cannot be reached even by the long arms of law. When the majesty of law is browbeaten by a contemnor, this court has the authority to direct the state machinery to employ its mighty force to reach the contemnor to smoke him out even if he holes up in bunker," a division bench of Justices M. Jeyapaul and Lisa Gill observed last week.

Police have cordoned off all areas around 500 metres from the complex. Fire brigade and riot control vehicles, water cannons, bullet-proof vans as well as ambulances have been stationed.

Though the authorities are making last ditch efforts to persuade Rampal to surrender, the administration has snapped power and water supply to the complex.

Authorities in the area Saturday urged the thousands of his followers to disperse.

Rampal, through his counsel, had earlier claimed that he was medically unfit to appear in the court in person.

Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar Saturday appealed to him "to present himself in the court in a peaceful manner".

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